Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is the highest paid defensive back in NFL history. He's also committed to giving back. Here, he tells us why he started his organization, Asomugha College Tour for Scholars, which allows him to take inner city students on college tours -- opening their eyes to the world of possibility afforded by education.
How did you, a star football player, find yourself taking underprivileged kids on college tours across the country?
When I was younger, I sometimes saw education as an impediment to fun -- to playing, to going to the basketball court. But education was something that my siblings and I were raised on, going back to where my parents are from in Nigeria.
As I got older, I started to see people who didn’t have the same stress on education in their home, and how that would set someone back. It made me want to help. So I started helping my peers in high school.
I want everyone to have the same opportunity. So I thought, “How can I help get people on the same level?” That was how I became inspired to start the Asomugha College Tour for Scholars (ACTS).
The other half of what motivated me to start the tours was my love of travel. I’ve always had an affinity for seeing different places, different cultures. (When I was young we’d go back to Nigeria almost every other year.) I thought, ”How can I put traveling and giving back together – not only for the people I help, but also for me?”
What are the tours like?
They’re not just about showing the students colleges. Sometimes we’ll go to a basket ball game or a Broadway play. There are so many different ways to give the students the sense that there is more out there than just the little area that they live in.
I think this year we’re going to start a scholarship program. When you look at these underserved communities, the kids can get into school – but do they actually have the money to go?
Has anything surprised you about the students who have gone on these trips with you?
The thing that stands out for me is how focused these kids are. These are children from underserved communities who have wonderful GPAs; it’s this anomaly. So you know that each student is going to have a certain amount of focus and drive. They have to step outside their surroundings and their circumstances and be adults – be older than they are.
What was your favorite experience from your recent tour in Washington, DC?
I don’t know if I had a favorite experience, but the students would have favorites – they got to meet Alicia Keys and sit in the front row at her concert. We also went bowling in The White House. That was amazing.
Do you stay in touch with the students after the college tour? How?
Throughout the year I’m involved in various service events in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles – and I bring my former students. For instance, in May I have an event in San Francisco, as I’m the ambassador of the United Way of the Bay Area (UWBA). I’m going to go and give high school students clothing for job interviews, and I’m taking 10 of my ACTS alums with me to help out.
We also have a Facebook page – or we connect through email.
How do you track their progress?
I was working by myself for the first 3 or 4 years of the program. Now I’ve hired a staff and we’ve started to pay closer attention to the students’ progress. The students and I also have personal conversations – it’s not all about school. I learn from them as much as they learn from me.
What advice do you have for busy professionals who can't seem to find the time to give back?
I’ve never felt like helping others was something that was mandated – or that if you don’t help others, you’re a horrible person. I fell into giving back because I liked doing it. I’d never look down on someone who’s not giving back. But I do believe we can all find time to do it – you may have a day off, like a Saturday, when you can go to a homeless shelter and serve food. It does not have to be a huge event you put on – you can give back to one person.
People shouldn’t take service lightly. You never know the impact you’re going to have.
The Oakland Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha, an American born Nigerian, founded the Asomugha College Tour for Scholars (ACTS), an annual college tour and mentoring program which provides high-achieving high-school students of color the opportunity to visit college campuses across the country. As a result of his hard work throughout his community he has been nominated for the NFLPA Byron Whizzer Award every year since 2005. Asomugha is also a finalist for the 2010 Jefferson Award for Public Service, which honors volunteerism in America and is considered the “Nobel Prize” for community service.