Tuesday was technically an off day for the 49ers, with no practice or media availability on the schedule for the day. However, for three players on the team, yesterday was a day spent making memories with fans and leaving an impact that will last a lifetime.
Azeez Al-Shaair, Spencer Burford, and Marcelino McCrary-Ball came out on their day off to spend time connecting with community members at RYSE Youth Center in Richmond.
Those players were there representing the 49ers as the San Francisco 49ers welcomed RYSE Inc. to its existing cohort of organizations receiving social justice grants to create measurable societal change in the Bay Area.
A bit about the non-profit, RYSE Inc. was founded in 2008 in response to a string of homicides affecting youth in Richmond. Serving the Richmond/West Contra Costa area, the organization supports ages 13 to 21, including those in and out of school, LGBTQ, homeless, undocumented, foster- and justice-system involved children and young adults.
The grant will reduce racial and ethnic disparities in Contra Costa County, reduce the average rate of youth incarcerated in Contra Costa County and ensure the systems and adults responsible create a safe, loving, welcoming, and responsive environment.
The financial aspect is essential, but the thing I want to focus on the most is the human impact that was made by these players devoting their time to giving back to the community.
It was made very clear that not only did these players volunteer for this but this non-profit, in particular, was something they were passionate about having a direct hand in assisting with. Al-Shaair is one of the representatives on the 49ers social justice council, and I had the opportunity of speaking with him at the RYSE Center.
I asked Al-Shaair about what it meant to him to have the platform that he does as an NFL player to make a difference in the community and his impact as a role model for so many people that look up to him. Here is what Al-Shaair had to say.
I always felt like there was nobody who was like me. Like I was the only one going through a struggle I was going through, thinking that nobody ever made it out of the struggle. And then you realize as you get older that people literally are in poverty, go through it and overcome it. But for me being in the platform that I have, I am able to spread that awareness and let the kids know, like coming out here today and letting kids know that there’s people who have literally been in situations just like you and made it on the other side. So I think this platform that I have is just so big and it allows me to reach more people a lot more people than it would if I was doing something else on a day to day basis, so it’s awesome.
And reach those people he did, as Al-Shaair shared some smiles and some laughs with some members of the community in Richmond on Tuesday.
One person in particular that Al-Shaair, Burford, and McCrary-Ball connected with was Jonathan Long, a student at Kennedy high school in Richmond. Long is an exceptionally talented football player who plays defensive tackle and a little offensive line at Kennedy. He also is a gifted producer and took some time to show the 49ers players some of his beats in the music studio in the youth center.
Long was born and raised in Richmond made it very clear how devoted he is to making a positive impact on his school and his community. I was highly impressed with the passion Long spoke with while discussing the changes he wanted to assist with, and one thing, in particular, stood out.
“I’m trying to fix all the stuff at my school to make it a better place, and just bring fun back to our community”
I can promise you, after watching it firsthand, that The 49ers and the players in attendance absolutely helped contribute to bringing fun to the community. In addition, McCrary-Ball spent some time working on some artwork with some of the youth at RYSE.
Burford spent some time chatting with a couple of members of the community before the three of them indulged in some snow cones made on location at the RYSE Center.
Al-Shaair got to spend some quality time with his new friend Jonathan.
Another really cool thing was seeing the trio of 49ers players learn how to screen print shirts with a member of the community named Eddy Chacon. Chacon is a lifelong 49ers fan born and raised in the Bay Area, having grown up in the Richmond area, which means so much to him.
Chacon spent some time showing the trio the ropes before giving them the chance to operate the screen press themselves as they helped make shirts for the members of the community to commemorate the event.
Here is the finished product for the one Chacon made during the demonstration.
McCrary-Ball then took over the controls to make one as well. Here is McCrary-Ball operating the press and the finished product.
Next up was Al-Shaair.
Then Burford joined in on the fun as well.
Here is the group of the four of them together.
One of the goals of my writing will always be to highlight the human element of the sport of football. Often times people overlook the person beneath the shoulder pads and helmets, and I think it’s a shame that the triumphs these players make off the field don’t get anywhere near the same attention as the production they have on the field does.
After spending the afternoon watching Al-Shaair, McCrary-Ball, and Burford touch the lives of so many people, I wanted to make sure I did my part to emphasize how genuine these players were in their interactions.
This was not something that felt forced or simply a stunt for good publicity. These players had a palpable enthusiasm for the work they were doing there. Wins and losses come and go, but the memories that these players gave these kids at the RYSE Center will last a lifetime.
These guys in the NFL are heroes to so many people that look up to them, and yesterday in Richmond, a group of kids got the chance to not only meet their heroes but bond with them in a way that they will never forget.