There are moments in our lives that shape us as people. How we act. How we look. What we do. What we say.
For Jeb Brovsky, that moment happened on April 20, 1999.
Two teens went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others before turning the guns on themselves. It was the worst high school shooting in United States history.
Approximately one mile away, Brovsky and his fourth grade classmates were at Normandy Elementary School.
“We went on immediate lockdown,” the New York City FC defender recalled. “My parents were teachers in the same school district right around Columbine. My dad busted through the door, grabbed me and my sister, drove us back home and locked the doors. It was one of the wildest days of my life.”
The events of that day hit especially close to home for the Brovsky family. Their neighbor, 15-year-old Daniel Mauser, was one of the students who tragically lost his life that day.
“His passing was a huge blow to our neighborhood and all of the families in our cul-de-sac,” Brovsky said. “It was something I’ll never forget. He was the nicest guy in the world. To have something like that happen to him, it really put a perspective on things early in my life. It showed me that you aren’t invincible and certain things happen that are out of your control. That’s what really sparked me forming my view of the world and how I see things and how I want to change things.”
The tragedies didn’t end with Columbine. The town continued to be plagued by a “snowball effect” of incidents including more shootings and suicides, some of Brovsky’s friends included. This spurred Brovsky’s impetus to transfer to Green Mountain High School – a rival of Columbine’s.
“It all led to me wanting to get out of the area to clear my own head,” he said. “I took a lot from that day and that tragedy and tried to make some good out of it.”
While at the University of Notre Dame, Brovsky founded Peace Pandemic, a non-profit organization that uses youth soccer camps to teach nonviolence and promote social justice. He also volunteered his time working for homeless shelters in the South Bend, Ind., area.
Peace Pandemic has since taken Brovsky and his wife Caitlin to orphanages in Guatemala and poverty stricken villages in India.
“What we realized was that the women were the most marginalized people in those societies and the violence toward them both structurally and physically was appalling to us,” Brovsky said. “For me, to prevent this from happening, we need to raise better men. I think soccer is a tool where I can get on that platform so I can speak to these young boys about it.”
His volunteer work continued after he graduated from Notre Dame and was drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps FC in 2011. Brovsky assisted at a non-profit homeless shelter in Vancouver. It was through his friends Adam Favel and Chandrima Chatterjee that he got put in touch with Mel Young, President of the Homeless World Cup.
Brovsky helped the Canadian homeless team prepare for the upcoming tournament. He is now an ambassador for the organization.
Much of Brovsky’s philosophy and belief system stems from his parents. John and Lorrie Brovsky – both life-long Colorado teachers – adopted Jeb and his sister, Lizanne.
“All of my life lessons and stuff I do with my life is from what I learned from them,” Jeb said. “My mom is a special education teacher. She always exuded patience. Even in the hardest times, my mom taught me to be sensitive to other people and make them feel warm. My dad is a hard worker. He’s up at 4 a.m., working his butt off until the end of the day and doesn’t complain about a single thing.”
Despite the tragedies that eclipsed his childhood, Brovsky walks around with a permanent reminder of Colorado and his home.
He has evergreen trees tattooed on his left forearm, each representing a member of his family.
“Under the trees I have three scripts for my mom, my dad and my sister,” Brovsky said. “My mom is Lebanese so I have an Arabic saying on my arm for her. My dad is Slovakian, so I have a Slovak phrase and my sister’s Italian. I have those three languages in the roots. It’s a melting pot of a family and it always reminds me of home when I look down at it.
“They’re representative of my roots.”
The kind, loving roots that shaped him into the person he is today. A professional soccer player for New York City FC who still volunteers what free time he has helping others.