BRADENTON -- Southeast High School freshman Lily Davis didn't know Henry Lawrence.
Neither did Nolan Middle School seventh-grader Paul Williams.
Nor did Manatee High School senior Katty Pierre-Charles.
They do now.
"Forever," said Pierre-Charles.
That's because the larger-than-life former Oakland Raider offensive tackle and 61-year-old Palmetto native put on a show Thursday as the rousing keynote speaker for the sixth annual Leader
ship Prayer Breakfast to benefit Take Stock in Children of Manatee County.
Lawrence sang, belting out James Ingram's "Yah Mo B There" at the beginning of his speech and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" at the end.
He quoted scripture.
He spoke from the heart.
Reaching back to his roots, Lawrence captivated the Bradenton Auditorium audience of 450 as he traced his life from a migrant youth to Florida A&M University All-America and three-time Super Bowl champion to entertainer, mentor and philanthropist.
"Don't worry where you came from, or what you did before," he said. "What's important is what you're doing now and what you're going to do later. Never stop. The sky's the limit."
A kind word can go a long way, Lawrence said.
"In all my years of growing up, I never had my relatives tell me, 'Henry, you're not going to amount to anything.' I didn't have a family like that. It was always, 'You can. You will. You're going to,'" he said. "Never tell your child he can't. You inspire. You push."
Lawrence didn't just get it from his family.
He got it from his coaches and teachers, especially at Lincoln Memorial High School before integration sent him to Manatee his senior year.
Willie Clemons, Jimmie Cromartie, John McMillan and Eddie Shannon were among those influences.
"These guys were the guiding light," Lawrence said. "Coach Clemons saw something in me and stayed with me."
His message resonated with several students who are in the Take Stock in Children program. According to executive director Diana Dill, it has 300 students and mentors and a 96 percent success rate with 250 program alums in college and on scholarships.
"I took it to heart," said Katty Pierre-Charles, a recent recipient of a Take Stock in Children "Leaders 4 Life" $40,000 Fellowship. "He reminded me how I need to keep going."
Sarina Alexis absorbed Lawrence's words of wisdom, too.
"Never give up. Get an education. Don't let anyone put you down," the Manatee senior said.
"He showed me whatever I want I have to strive to achieve," said her twin sister, Sabrina.
Lawrence's impassioned speech moved many in attendance.
"Inspirational," said Karen Carpenter, the event chair and Manatee County School Board chair. "For children and us old folks, too."
"His message was right on, perfect for these kids and our community," said Joe Mercado, operations manager for Turning Points and Take Stock in Children board member.
"If he can do it, guess what?" said Manatee County Sheriff's Lt. John Murrell. "You can do it, too."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix