Friday, March 18, 2011

Jets’ Ihedigbo Continues Parents’ Legacy in Nigeria

Unfortunately, the sports section for the paper was limited this week, but at least I am able to publish this article for the blog.

Last Friday night, I had the pleasure to attend this fundraiser. While there was business to tend to, it was a welcome distraction from the events of the day. Yes, the NFL lockout began as the NFLPA decertified, but on a far more grave note, the earthquake and tsunami that just hit Japan glued millions of us to the television with such dire images.

Many, many thanks to Greg Domond for the invite and the Jets' James Ihedigbo for taking some time to speak with me on a rather busy night.

Jets’ Ihedigbo Continues Parents’ Legacy in Nigeria
By Jason Clinkscales

Last Friday night at the World Bar in Trump Towers in East Midtown, New York Jets strong safety James Ihedigbo spoke at a fundraiser HOPE Africa Foundation as he, along with several NFL players, family members and volunteers prepared for the annual non-profit offseason trip to Nigeria. HOPE Africa joined forces with the Amobi Okoye Foundation (Okoye is a defensive tackle for the Houston Texans) in providing means to Nigerians for many important services from cancer screenings to scholarships for students hoping to study in the United States.

While nearly every famed pro athlete contributes to some cause, for the player known as ‘Digg’, HOPE Africa speaks to a personal mission. He created HOPE Africa to further enhance the extraordinary efforts of his parents. Born to Nigerian immigrants in Northampton, Massachusetts, Ihedigbo is using his standing as professional athlete to carry on their legacy.

Ihedigbo’ parents founded the Nigerian Agricultural Technical Community College in 1999. His father, Apollos, passed away during his senior year at UMass-Amherst, trying to support the same dreams he had for his family.

“So many people in Nigeria, just like my mother and my father, just worked their tails off to come to the United States, get an education… be prosperous and raise their families, ” said the former undrafted free agent. “I looked for a way that I can give people the same platform that I was given myself. What better way than to start helping people that my father started helping.”

Humanitarian efforts are second nature for Ihedigbo as last March, he led 20 other NFL players to Haiti as the island nation began its recovery from the devastating earthquake last January. It wasn’t lost on him considering that another natural disaster, an earthquake and tsunami, had rocked Japan less than a day before.

Of course, with the NFL lockout, which essentially began hours before the fundraiser, you can’t help but to wonder how players can fulfill commitments to their communities. “A lot of the funding for our foundation comes from ourselves,” quipped Ihedigbo. “In terms of resources, it does hinder things, but God willing, this does get resolved sooner than later.”

On the sports side, both foundations are hosting a football camp to get kids active and closer to the stars they admire half a world away. Said Ihedigbo, “Children in Nigeria have so much energy, so much positive energy, so much knowledge. They want to be the best, they want to be successful, and they just don’t have the resources.” He continued to discuss how both foundations will provide for health care and education in hopes to “give these kids the inspiration to be great.”

The trip as a whole provides an opportunity for the participating players and volunteers to connect in a far-reaching manner besides writing a check. Though born here, Ihedigbo believes that his football legacy in the States will always connect to his parents’ vision for their homeland.

Note: For more information, visit the HOPE Africa and Amobi Okoye Foundation websites to learn more about both organizations.

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