From the first time every young athlete steps onto a football field, they dream about winning a Super Bowl and holding up that Lombardi Trophy. James Ihedigbo, safety for the Baltimore Ravens, has now accomplished that but he isn’t completely satisfied. He aspires to help others receive the same opportunity that he was given.
This Thursday, April 25, over 200 special guests are expected to come together to help raise college scholarship opportunities for deserving but under-privileged students. Special guests include, but are not limited to, premier NFL athletes, entertainment personalities/celebrities, and Manhattan elite. The fundraiser provides guests the opportunity to watch the first round of the NFL Draft “LIVE” with the aforementioned attendees. This marks Beyond the Boroughs’ 5th consecutive year hosting this charitable event, with HOPE Africa co-hosting for the 2nd year.
Since 2007, Beyond the Boroughs has been bringing bright futures to students who have been accepted into college, but lack the necessary financial means, by helping pay the exorbitant costs of a higher education. Founded by NFL veteran Tutan Reyes (whose life was transformed by the college scholarship he received), Beyond the Boroughs awards four-year scholarships, each worth up to $20,000, to both male and female students of any race from any state. Last year, Beyond the Boroughs partnered with the non-profit organization HOPE Africa, which has a similar mission (James Ihedigbo is its president). This partnership has created a platform to grant academic scholarships and build a broader structure for its mentorship program. By providing volunteer opportunities, internships, and a network of professionals to aid in facilitating projects, the focus is to establish a continuing system of resources for future scholars. James was kind enough to take a few moments out of his busy schedule to speak with us about the highly anticipated fundraiser.
BackSportsPage.com: Tell us a little bit about your event, NFL Draft Cocktail Fundraiser in support of Beyond The Boroughs and HOPE Africa.
James: HOPE Africa stems from my parents, who came from Nigeria and earned their PhDs in Education. Throughout, they always had a dream to go back to Nigeria and provide the same opportunities to come to the United States that they had. They started an agricultural college in Nigeria and I want to give back by providing these kids with scholarships for higher education, which will take the financial burden off them and allow them to focus on their studies. We partnered with the organization Beyond the Boroughs, which is directed toward the five boroughs of NY, and started this amazing event. We attract NFL players from all over to help us and it’s an opportunity for fans to watch the first round of the draft with NFL players while supporting two amazing causes that give back.
BackSportsPage.com: This is the fifth year of hosting this event, so tell us how it has grown over the years.
James: It just continues to grow from the public support we are getting. We have moved to a bigger venue and attracted bigger guests, such as Victor Cruz, Calvin Johnson, Ray Rice, Vontae Leach, and the list goes on. It’s just great that we are able to do this while raising money for a good cause.
BackSportsPage.com: As an NFL player, how important is it for you to give back to the community?
James: It’s very important. God didn’t bless me with the ability to play in the NFL just to play in the NFL. He has given me this platform to transform many lives and that’s what I am here to do. Everyone has a purpose in life and I am just here to fulfill my purpose to the best of my ability.
BackSportsPage.com: What are your hobbies besides playing football?
James: Everything. I am big into men’s fashion and even help my fiancée in terms of picking out certain items. I like entertainment, gaming, books, and cooking. I just try to keep myself busy learning new things.
BackSportsPage.com: Do players ever critique themselves in the video games, specifically your teammates with the Madden video game?
James: One thing that we do notice is that they really get the details down to a tee. In terms of what players wear, they have my visor and wristband so I really have to give them credit for that.
BackSportsPage.com: So tell us about your football career, from starting with the Jets, getting hurt, playing under Rex Ryan, then moving to the Patriots and Ravens.
James: To sum it up, opportunity is the key to life and I have been blessed with the chance. I wasn’t drafted but I had a chance of a tryout, signed a contract, and made a future. I got hurt and thought it was over but I sat out a year, watched, then came back the next year even better and was able to establish myself in the NFL. A lot of times, after a coaching change, coaches can choose to clear house but I was able to stay on and increase my playing time. In New England, we came up short of winning the Super Bowl but Baltimore is a perfect fit for me since it has the Rex Ryan attitude that I am used to.
BackSportsPage.com: What is the biggest difference in coaching styles between Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan?
James: You see it…one coach talks a lot and one doesn’t. Both have been successful coaches so the biggest difference is definitely personality.
BackSportsPage.com: How would you describe the experience of winning the Super Bowl last year and the celebration afterwards?
James: It was amazing and the guys definitely stuck together through faith in our team. It was a combination of all the hard work we put into the season and it was a great way to end the career of one of the greatest players ever.
BackSportsPage.com: What is the mentality for this season after winning the Super Bowl?
James: We go into this season with a lot to prove, both personally and in terms of our defense. The team mentality is, “Why not us?” That is what we are working towards.
BackSportsPage.com: Talk about other sports and athletes that you like to watch.
James: I really like Carmelo Anthony and he’s really playing at an extremely high level right now. I try to catch as many Knicks games as possible. I also can’t forget Deron Williams. Both of them are playing great.
BackSportsPage.com: If Brooklyn played the Knicks in the playoffs, who do you think would take it?
James: Hmmm…I am going to have to go with the Nets and D-Will.
BackSportsPage.com: In your time in the NFL, who has had the biggest effect on you?
James: I have learned a lot from many different players. I’ve had the opportunity to play with many NFL greats and as a rookie I remember playing with Artrell Hawkins, who is a good friend to this day. He was in his ninth or tenth year and he would give me words of wisdom as I was fighting to make a roster. I couldn’t understand it but I took it for what it was because it was coming from a great player in the league. Brett Favre also showed me how to compete at such a high level but also to have fun and not always take the game so seriously.
BackSportsPage.com: What was the most enjoyable part of your career?
James: The most enjoyable part was earning my first contract and being able to say that I am now an NFL football player. The second best was beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship
game a year after they released me.
BackSportsPage.com: If you were to play 1 on 1 against any sports figure in a video game, who would you choose to play against?
James: I would want to play Lebron in NBA2k13 to see if he is any good but I guarantee I would whoop him!
Event Info: Thursday, April 25, 2013
7:00 – 10:00 PM (Red Carpet 7:00-8:00pm)
PH-D Rooftop Lounge-DREAM Downtown
355 W. 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
Tickets are available at www.hopeafricausa.org.