Monday, December 20, 2010

Nnamdi Asomugha: Making a Difference in His Native Nigeria and the Next Generation Here at Home | SUCCESS Magazine | What Achievers Read

Nnamdi Asomugha: Making a Difference in His Native Nigeria and the Next Generation Here at Home: "Nnamdi Asomugha: Making a Difference in His Native Nigeria and the Next Generation Here at Home
The Oakland Raider cornerback shares about his commitment to the community and his charitable foundation.

Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha remembers the moment as if it happened just yesterday.

A native of Nigeria, Asomugha grew up in Southern California after his parents fled the impoverished country. “My favorite piece of clothing as a boy was a purple Magic Johnson jersey from the Los Angeles Lakers,” Asomugha recalls. “I wore that jersey every day until it didn’t fit any longer.” On his first visit back to his homeland as a 7-year-old, “I saw another little guy wearing my old favorite jersey. I could tell by looking at it that it had been mine.”

Just a few months before, Asomugha had taken the jersey off for the last time. At his parents’ suggestion, he deposited it in a box filled with other clothing that would be donated to needy people in Nigeria.

“When I saw the jersey on someone else, I never said a word,” Asomugha tells SUCCESS. “Because, while some kids might struggle there, I was taught from a very young age that giving to others is what we’re supposed to do. My parents were among the first families from their area to leave Nigeria and come to America, the land of the free. Once they got here, whatever they earned, they made sure to send some of it back. And they made sure that their children understood the importance of giving back, too.”

The lesson certainly stuck.

Asomugha became a standout high-school football and basketball player in Los Angeles before choosing to play college football at the University of California-Berkeley. At Cal, Asomugha became an all-conference safety and, more important, a graduate with a degree in corporate finance. In the 2003 NFL draft, the Raiders used a first-round pick to add him to their team.

'I was taught from a very young age that giving to others is what we’re supposed to do.'

Asomugha quickly became one of the Raiders’ most valuable players and was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season. By the next season, his reputation as a defender was so well-known that some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL were quoted as saying they didn’t even attempt to challenge him. The Raiders rewarded him with a jaw-dropping contract, making Asomugha the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history.

Asomugha’s reputation as a philanthropist was growing at the same speed. The fleet-footed cornerback started making regular visits to the East Oakland Youth Development Center, committing almost every Monday afternoon since 2004 to mentoring and tutoring inner-city youth at the center. He has provided shoes and running suits to students there, and brings a number of them to the Raiders training facility each year for an annual academic celebration. He has even taken a group fly-fishing.

“My experience with the center reminded me to always have my eyes open for opportunities to give back,” Asomugha says. “My first visit there was just a simple speech to the students, just trying to encourage them to focus on their education and do the right things. But I just connected with them, and it has become an important part of who I am.”

Two years after he “adopted” the students at the East Oakland center, Asomugha created the Asomugha College Tour for Scholars (ACTS) program. Each year, he selects students from Bay Area high schools who meet his GPA and leadership requirements and takes them on an all-expenses-paid college tour to different cities. To date, Asomugha has taken students to Atlanta for visits at Morehouse College, Spelman College, Georgia Tech and Clark Atlanta University; Boston for visits to Harvard, MIT, Boston University and Brown University; and to New York, where the students toured NYU, Columbia University, The Juilliard School and Fordham University.

“Each of the kids who has gone on these trips was already a good student and was probably going to go to college,” Asomugha says. “But I wanted to make sure they saw the world outside of this area and had a chance to think about college in a city somewhere else. These are trips for exposure to other parts of the country, for eye-opening, really. It gave me a chance to share my love of travel and my love of learning about new things with them, and, I have to admit, I’ve grown as much as they have.”

Of the 25 students who have made the three trips with Asomugha, all but three have already been accepted into college. “And those three just haven’t graduated from high school,” Asomugha says with a laugh. “We really are working with some special young people.”

For all his charitable efforts in the Bay Area, Asomugha hasn’t forgotten his homeland. He continues to serve as chairman for his family’s charity, the Orphans and Widows In Need (OWIN) Foundation. Through OWIN, Asomugha and his family provide food, shelter, medicine and scholarships to orphans and widows in Nigeria. The organization supports two community centers in Nigeria and plans to expand to other countries in Africa this year.

Asomugha admits his charitable efforts provide a secondary personal benefit. “Our team hasn’t done well over the last couple of years,” Asomugha said in an interview last November, a day after the Raiders suffered their third loss in a row. “It doesn’t matter how well you play individually if the team isn’t winning. When football is your job, a lot of what you feel about yourself and about life can become attached to the outcome of those games. That’s probably true about a lot of jobs, but we suffer our losses pretty publicly. When you’re not getting the results you want, it becomes easy to get depressed.

“Being involved in a number of other things that leave you feeling good about life doesn’t make the football any easier, but it does make it easier to put it in perspective. I can’t imagine where I would be without having these things to help me. Charity was so ingrained in me that it really is second nature. It is a part of life. But in the situation, charity is actually benefitting me as much as it is those we’re helping.”

Today, Asomugha’s Raiders jersey number 21 is worn by children all over Oakland. And it’s worn by children in Nigeria, too. S

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