Oakland Raider Nnamdi Asomugha Means as Much to his Community as he does to his Team
The city of Oakland is a city divided. For the fortunate few who live in the more affluent neighbourhoods, who get to wake up to sunshine and opportunity, it's a fine place to grow up.
To the others, who wake up to darkness and gunshots, to lives of little opportunity, it's not such a nice place to grow up. Not at all.
Unfortunately, this is too high a majority of the population of Oakland, those who have little to look forward to but a life that's either ended too soon or spent behind bars.
Oakland is the 41st largest city in the United States, yet it shows a murder rate comparable with a city three times its size, a violent crime rate of a city more than twice its size and a carjacking rate of a city over three times its size. Simply put, per capita, Oakland is one of the most violent places in America. It is overrun with drug dealers and violent criminals, and many kids don't stand a chance.
That's why a person like Nnamdi Asomugha, a local sports hero and true role model, is so very important to a city like Oakland, where those who have little in the way of material goods or chances in life far outnumber those who have life's options laid out neatly before them.
Asomugha has been in the Oakland area for his entire adult life, so he knows firsthand the struggles the kids living there face. He went to the University of California at Berkeley after graduating from Narbonne High School in Los Angeles, and from the very beginning of his time in Oakland, he began to make a difference.
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During his freshman year at Cal, he began working with the Touchdown for Kids program, which saw Cal donate money for each tackle he made to the underprivileged youth in Berkeley. He continued this program throughout his tenure at Cal, culminating in his becoming spokesperson for the program his senior year.
When he was drafted by the Raiders in 2003, he brought the program with him to Oakland, where it continues to this day.
He also remembers where he comes from—every school year he distributes backpacks full of school supplies to incoming freshmen at Narbonne High, and he also negotiated full uniform and shoe deals for the Narbonne High School football and basketball team into his Nike endorsement contract.
He is recognized worldwide as a philanthropist through his work with the Orphans and Widows in Need (OWIN) foundation, an organization founded by he and his family that assists orphans and widows in his native Nigeria with medicine and food. OWIN currently has two centers in Nigeria, with plans to expand throughout Africa.
Asomugha comes by his kind spirit honestly, as his parents and siblings are all well educated and all involved in charity work or health care in some way. His mother is the head of the OWIN foundation and works closely with him, and he speaks often about his parents taking them to shelters and feeding the homeless when they were young. Giving comes naturally to Asomugha.
Nobody knows that better than the kids at the East Oakland Youth Development Center, a community-based nonprofit center that began as a job training facility and is now a haven for youth who seek refuge from the violence and drugs that pervade Oakland's streets.
Since the day he met the center's leader, Regina Jackson, as a senior at Cal, Asomugha has been a staple at the center, speaking to the kids there about education, academics, health, wellness, work ethic and how to overcome negative circumstances and make a good life.
He's been there pretty much every Monday afternoon since 2004, and he doesn't just preach to the kids. He's a well-known goof-off who plays pranks, shoots hoops and just hangs out; he's befriended all of them, and they've befriended him.
There are loads of testimonials from the kids that repeatedly talk about Asomugha as a genuine friend, not a celebrity, and how he's obviously there only for them, and not the publicity or himself. Reading their sentiments, you get a genuine sense of family and friendship that goes behind an athlete just putting in time.
Nothing comes easily, though, and Asomugha makes sure these kids understand that as he teaches them that hard work and perseverance are the only way to break free of the trappings of having little opportunity. He also understands, though, that the world is cruel and that these kids need a chance.
That's why he started his Asomugha College Tour for Scholars (ACTS) program in 2007, a program that rewards kids who meet his standards of GPA, leadership qualities and community service with a trip to a big city to look at college campuses.
He did it as a way to show all the kids that if they work hard, they can get rewarded, but also to show them that there is life outside of Oakland, that there is more to the world. He wanted to take the kids who won, who are good students and could probably get into college anyway, somewhere else to let them experience life.
He continually teaches the kids that it's important to expand yourself as a person and broaden your horizons. He's taken kids so far to Atlanta, Boston and New York City; I'm not sure where he's taking this year's winners as of yet.
Although he doesn't do it for the recognition or the accolades, when you put in as much good work as he does, it's bound to get noticed.
The media has recognized his efforts, nominating him for the Sports Illustrated 2008 Sportsman of the Year award; in 2009, he was named to the “Dream Team for Public Service” by the Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
It's not only the kids he's influenced and media he's charmed that think so highly of him.
Asomugha has also been repeatedly recognized by fellow members of the NFL Players Association, who nominated him in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 for the Byron "Whizzer" White Award for Outstanding Community Service.
In 2010, he finally cracked the podium and won the award.
In 2010 he also became the ambassador for United Way of the Bay Area UWBA, dedicated to creating long-lasting change and ensuring all Bay Area residents have access to the building blocks to a better life: education, income and health.
Coupled with his work with the OWIN Foundation in his native Nigeria, it's not a stretch to say Nnamdi Asomugha has had a positive impact on the lives of people in need around the world.
He's also won the Oakland Raiders Commitment to Excellence Award twice in his eight-year career, which shows just how much he means to the team and the city of Oakland.
Giving back in Oakland is a huge part of what makes Nnamdi Asomugha who he is as a person and also as one of the most popular Oakland Raiders in recent memory.
Not only is Asomugha a leader and superstar off the field, he's a leader and one of the Raiders' best players on the field as well.
We all know the virtues of Asomugha as a player and why it would be devastating for the team to lose him from its defensive backfield. But I contend that the lives he's shaped and the kids he's helped in Oakland will suffer as much, if not more, than the Raiders if he is unsigned.
It's not only that another NFL team will be getting a great player; another NFL city will be getting a great person as well, someone who will make an immediate impact on and off the field.
The man is a great example of a well-rounded individual, a modern-day renaissance man who seems to be good at everything he does; but more importantly, a man who wants to share that goodness with everyone around him.