Asomugha keeps his promise to help underprivileged kids

Posted: April 03, 2014

IF A PICTURE is worth a thousand words, then a living, breathing example is the equivalent of a dictionary.

Since 2006, recently retired NFL cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has taken high-achieving but at-risk high school students from underprivileged areas on tours of colleges across America, through his Asomugha College Tours for Scholars (ACTS) program.

And while he has had incredible success, with each of the more than 130 participants going on to pursue higher education, each new session of the annual program is like starting from scratch.

Asomugha, formerly of the Eagles, Raiders and 49ers, can tell the kids they can overcome their circumstances to make their dreams a reality. But it still is difficult for some of them to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So yesterday, when the 20 students on the 2014 tour arrived the University of Pennsylvania after touring Drexel, they were met by a Penn student special to Asomugha's heart.

John Jimenez was once where this group is. An outstanding student from a tough section of Los Angeles, Jimenez was a member of the 2010 ACTS class that went to the Washington area to visit American University, Catholic University, George Washington, Georgetown, Howard and the University of Maryland at College Park.

He greeted the 2014 class as a sophomore accounting major at Penn - a dictionary.

"It makes me feel really good," Jimenez said of being able to share his experience with another group of aspiring scholars. "It was a hard journey getting here. You have to work very hard when you have limited resources.

"I encouraged them to push themselves every day; to keep in contact with people who are important and can help them and to outsource resources."

The 2014 group is one of the largest ever, with 12 students from Los Angeles (Asomugha's hometown), three from the San Francisco Bay Area and five from Philadelphia.

The California kids have longstanding connections to Asomugha, who spent most of his 10-year career in Oakland - but Philadelphia?

It is easy to question why Asomugha felt the need to include students from the City of Brotherly Love. In 2011, when he joined the Eagles as a big-ticket free agent, bringing Philadelphia students into the ACTS program was one of the immediate ways Asomugha gave back to his new community.

But things did not go well on the field during Asomugha's 2-year tenure as an Eagle. In fact, because of his salary, he became the poster child for the Birds' disappointing collapse.

"Footballwise, the goal was to win, win, win and have a lot of success," he said. "None of that happened. We did not have the fun we wanted to have."

Given the heat Asomugha took as a player, it would be understandable if he wanted nothing else to do with Philadelphia after the Eagles cut him before the start of the 2013 season.

Simply put, Asomugha is not that kind of man. The very definition of philanthropist is to give to others unconditionally.

ACTS also connects to Acts 20: 35 in the Bible: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

Asomugha made a commitment to the students of Philadelphia. He asked them to achieve and he would be there for them.

The kids kept their end of the deal.

"I said I still have to have some kind of impact [in Philadelphia] in some way," Asomugha said. "When I was in Oakland and started this program, people would always ask me, 'What if you go to another team? Will you still keep the program going? What if you stop playing?'

"I always said, 'Yes.' I wasn't going to back out on that. When I came to Philadelphia, I had spent so much time in Los Angeles and Oakland that I thought it could not get much more difficult for a young person growing up in those types of situations. Then you come to Philadelphia and it is repeating itself. The stories are the same. You get sad, because it is everywhere. I said there was no way I would leave here and not still be involved and try to help out the community and people here."

In 2013, Philadelphia students were part of the ACTS program that sent students to schools in northern California.

This year's Philly students don't get a cross-country trip, but the colleges they'll visit include Ivy League members Penn, Princeton and Columbia, plus Drexel and Fordham. Few students can ever say they got to visit three Ivy League schools and two other highly ranked universities in 3 days.

"I have to be honest, because when I was giving the orientation, I told the kids' parents what schools we were visiting," Asomugha said, "and when I said Princeton, it was like they hadn't heard any of the other schools.

"They were, like, why? Do they have a realistic chance of getting in there? They can't go to Princeton or the Ivy League.

"I told them they would be surprised. You don't need a 5.0 to go the Ivy League. These students have a unique situation and a unique background that gives them the opportunity to many more schools than people think. The fact that they are high-achieving with their [minimum GPA of 3.25] is a big deal."

A lot of Philadelphia kids live near Penn, have been on Penn's campus for athletic events, but never visited Penn as an educational institution.

It can be eye-opening.

Kevin Abrokwah, a junior at George Washington High, is such a student.

"I've walked past Penn once in a while," said Abrokwah, who came to ACTS through the Philadelphia Futures Group that teamed with Asomugha when he was looking to establish his program here. "But I've never been here like this.

"This tour was amazing. A lot of the stuff I knew because of reading about the school and doing research, but to actually see things at the college relates more to me on a personal level and not just something I've read on the Internet. To be here, feel the atmosphere and the essence of being here actually gives you a connection as a place you'd like to go to college."


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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