It was at the site of the HBCU Week and college fair in Wilmington, Delaware, where the spotlight shines on our nation’s excellent Historically Black Colleges and Universities each fall.
Youngsters were talking with HBCU admissions counselors. Students making professional connections. Successful businesspeople recruiting for interns.
Black excellence, all around me.
That was the backdrop when Ashley Christopher, CEO of the HBCU Week Foundation, made a bold statement: “We want this to be huge. As big as the Super Bowl.” The NFL was in. We committed to partnering with the foundation, providing high school students with $10,000 scholarships to attend the HBCU of their choice. The latest round of applications just closed on February 15.
The NFL is investing in HBCU scholarships because, as a highly visible sports and entertainment entity, we have taken seriously our responsibility to the Black community.
It’s about degrees, jobs and pathways to a thriving wage.
Since 2016, more than 4,000 students have participated in the NFL Football Operations department’s various partnership initiatives with HBCUs.
These include networking programs engaging hundreds of students and football executives annually; experienceships within NFL departments; a competition showcasing Black brainpower in underrepresented fields such as business and STEM; and the HBCU Week Foundation scholarship program, opening the door to enroll at these life-changing (and identity-affirming) intuitions.
It’s a long list, made possible by close to $3.5 million in donations and operational expenses to keep the HBCU initiatives running. The return is immeasurable.
Working-age Black people are also gaining access to skills that lead to career mobility through the NFL’s nonprofit partners, like Per Scholas, which provides tuition-free training “to individuals often excluded from tech careers.” The NFL initially committed to enrolling 180 people in Per Scholas training. That number has jumped to 6,000-plus over the next two years. More than 80% of graduates find full-time employment within a year of completing a Per Scholas program. The stats don’t lie.
It’s about uplifting Black-owned businesses.
The league has put $125 million toward closing the wealth-equity gap in the past year. This money has supported Black-owned and -operated businesses. Most recently, the league announced a partnership with Contract with Black America Institute (CBWA), expanding our commitment to economic equality.
The purpose? To create value for Black businesses and promote long-term economic growth for Black communities nationwide, which historically have been left behind as others have prospered.
It’s about civic engagement.
The act of voting is more challenging in predominantly Black communities. Every single one of our 32 member clubs supports NFL Votes, focusing on voter education, registration and activation.
Clubs in every market make available their stadiums for election-related activities, including polling sites on Election Day.
It’s about social justice and ground-level impact.
Then there’s Inspire Change, the NFL’s sweeping initiative to combat racial and social injustice with the independent Players Coalition.
Together, we pledged to provide $250 million in grants before 2027 focused on education, economic advancement, police and community relations, and criminal justice reform.
The Inspire Change partnership was extended in January 2023 to continue reducing barriers to opportunity. Around the Super Bowl, NFL legends helped us donate computers to Arizona families in need. Also, Inspire Change and its partners brought attention to Café Momentum, a Dallas restaurant with an internship program for young people affected by the juvenile justice system, an example of how one small idea can lead to big strides like reducing recidivism.
The Commissioner’s office, his leadership team and the player-led Players Coalition have worked tirelessly to elevate the Black community. Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins and their brethren in the Players Coalition have made measurable gains: winning nearly 30 policy battles, giving out more than $40 million in grants and leading a charge to help kids in underresourced schools connect to the internet.
Finally, It’s about inclusion.
Black boys and girls need to see people who look like them in leadership positions across football to affirm their self-worth — to keep alive a sense of limitless possibilities.
So long as we, the National Football League, focus our efforts on the big picture, we’ll continue to make lasting change. No doubt these efforts are making a difference in the Black community and other historically marginalized groups.
Investing in opportunity-based initiatives will help build a more fair and just society. Meanwhile, building momentum toward true representation in football will show the world what’s possible.