Last week, the San Francisco 49ers announced the nine recipients of the $1 million dollar social justice grant. Announced by 49ers CEO Jed York on May 30, following the death of George Floyd, the grant was given to organizations whose focus is on racial equality in policing, ending mass incarceration or educational and economic advancement for young black people.
Per the 49ers, each organization went through a two-month selection process that included a review of its proposal by 49ers ownership, front office staff, which included members from the Black Employee Resource Group, and 49ers players.
“It was kind of like a Shark Tank-type situation where they were able to pitch, tell us a little bit about their background and where they’re headed, and get to know a little bit of the group,” said defensive lineman Aril Armstead. “And then we heard everybody out. And then we deliberated as a group on our end and decided about dividing up the money and where things would be funded.”
Each organization had six minutes to make their pitch to the reviewers, which was not an easy task.
“It was a thorough process and an interesting process, because I don’t recall in my almost 10 years of being an Executive Director having six minutes to make my pitch,” said Milan Balinton, Executive Director of the African American Community Service Agency. “…I had to prioritize. How do I talk about a 42 year old organization in probably two minutes or less? And then talking about where we currently are as an organization, where we’re going. And then I think I talked about what we would be doing with the funds…and then a little snapshot about me as a leader within the organization.”
The final distribution of funds was decided by 49ers representatives on the Players Social Justice Council, led by Armstead, OL Ben Garland, DL Dee Ford, DL Solomon Thomas, OL Laken Tomlinson and former CB Jamar Taylor.
“It meant a lot to me to be involved in something like that, especially something of that magnitude that can affect the community,” Tomlinson said. “And we had a bunch of guys get together on Zoom meeting, and we chatted for a good while…And I thought it went really well, and it was an honor to be a part or something like that, to do something like that for the community, and I want to thank, obviously, Jed [York] for allowing us to be a part of it, allowing the team to be a part of it, really.”
Californians for Safety and Justice
One of the recipients is Californians for Safety and Justice, “a nonprofit working with Californians from all walks of life to replace prison and justice system waste with common sense solutions that create safe neighborhoods and save public dollars. Through policy advocacy, grassroots mobilization, public education, alliances and support for local best practices, we promote strategies to stop the cycle of crime, reduce reliance on incarceration and build healthy communities.”
The grant money from the 49ers will help fund a few initiatives the organization is working on, but the majority will go towards helping people when they get out of prison.
“[I]n California, there are about eight million people with a criminal record,” said Jay Jordan, Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “8 million. It’s insane…And they face over 5,000 laws…that restrict them from things like housing and employment. I robbed somebody when I was 18…Served eight years. Been out ever since. I have a beautiful family. Moved on. Run a whole statewide organization. That is behind me. But yet, I can never coach my son’s little league team, ever. I just bought a house. I can’t join my HOA. I can’t sell insurance. Can’t sell used cars. Can’t sell real estate. Can never adopt kids. Can’t ride on the bus with my son, when he grows up, on a field trip. Can’t volunteer at his school. There are 5,000 law just like that on the books that these eight million people face every single day. And there’s no remedy insight.
“…We’ve been working with the state legislature in California to automate the expungement process, and we were able to do that last year with AB-1076…If we truly are a nation of second chances, if people get held accountable and we serve our time and we get out and we don’t commit no more crimes, why are we still disenfranchised, even till we die? And people fought and died for civil rights. And right now, I am not a full citizen, even though I paid taxes…Even though I run an organization, I’ve given my life to service. I will always be disenfranchised, and I will never have my civil rights back. And I’m just like 8 million people, not only in California, and more than 70 million people in the country.
“…We’re locking people out of the working economy. America loses $87 billion in annual GDP, because we don’t allow people to work, or they’re underemployed. And so, we want to fix that. We’re going to fix. And we’re going to build a movement with the help of the grant we got from the 49ers to ask for the full restoration of civil rights…Ensuring that if people do cycle into prison, they get the resources they need to be successful when they get out.”
For Jordan, who has been with CSJ for five years and been the Executive Director since last year, the uniqueness of the organization comes from the people that are working to create change.
“We’re driven by the people who are most impacted by this system,” Jordan said. “…Our staff is mostly people of color that were mostly impacted in some way or another, whether it’s losing a loved one to violence…Our Associate Director lost two brothers in a span of six years…Every law that we pass literally comes from either a survivor or a person with a conviction, and that’s beautiful to have lived experience drive policy.”
African American Community Service Agency
Another recipient is the African American Community Service Agency, which provides “quality educational, cultural, social and recreational programs, services and activities in order to perpetuate and strengthen African American identity, culture, values, traditions, knowledge and family life, is at the heart of all programs. AACSA’s membership is open to everyone, regardless of race, religion, age or disability.”
The grant from the 49ers will be used for the organization’s AACSA Leadership Academy.
“I’m so excited, I’m smiling from ear to ear,” said Milan Balinton, Executive Director of AACSA. “So we applied for our AACSA Leadership Academy, which we started three years ago…We reignited it because…African-American students in high school and college don’t have a lot of black leaders that they can see visibly on their high school, campuses and in college. So we are going to use that money to hire a full time staff member to manage and guide and direct the program along with those young people.”
The leadership program is one year and, under normal circumstances, it starts with a three-day kickoff in early May at the downtown Marriott.
“…[W]e bring in keynote speakers, training development tools from…speakers within the black community and the community in general,” Balinton said. “…This also includes providing them with a laptop or a tablet…not just within the program, but for school purposes…We provide them with the tools and resources that they need to create a financial path towards college and education…[W]e hire a college specialist, and basically what she does, is she meets with them every Saturday and when they put in a request to help develop their progress from high school into the college of their choice…
“Often times, what we’ve learned from them is that [our participants] get lost within the shuffle of a big school…and we hire trained people who come in..to help guide them, give them that personal time to be able to develop their skill sets to get into the colleges and universities…”
This year, due to COVID-19, the kick off happened online and at the end of May.
Full List of Recipients
- 100 Black Men of the Bay Area
- African American Community Services Organization
- Californians for Safety and Justice
- Dream Corps
- Operation Hope
- Pico California
- The Innocence Project
- The Players Coalition
Congratulations to all of the recipients and thank you to the 49ers for continuing to do so much tremendous work in the community and for continuing to prioritize and fight for social justice.
*Thank you African American Community Service Agency and Californians for Safety and Justice for providing photos of your work in the community.