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If you play in the NFL, everyone understands you are an elite athlete who is highly skilled with extraordinary talent. But no one knows for sure what kind of a man you are, if you are considerate or compassionate or helpful or honorable. No one knows for sure if the impact you make is simply through hits on the field or something greater off the field. 

For Malcolm Jenkins, there is no question. The Eagles safety has shown us again and again he thinks about his legacy; he considers what mark he will leave on the world. And he has decided his legacy will be long-lasting and positive. His impact will be significant – and we’re not talking about football.  

There will be a time, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins understands, when all that he has done on the football field will be a distant memory, the brilliance faded by time and replaced by someone bigger, faster and stronger. A player, a veteran like Jenkins, then must ponder the question of legacy: The afterlife of an NFL player and a man. 

“Somebody asked me recently, ‘What is it that you play for?’ Throughout my career, that has changed,” Jenkins says.  

“Early in my career it was about being a competitor and gaining respect and being the best. Now, I’ve won two Super Bowls, I’ve been to the Pro Bowl twice and there are not many more things on that list. It’s now about the impact.”  

“When I leave the game, I want to be able to look back and say, ‘How did I impact the game? How did I impact the city that I played in? My teammates? What do people in the league say about you?’ There’s going to be another safety down the line who is going to be a better player, have better stats, and you may be forgotten. If you impact lives, you leave a lasting impression.” 

And so, in addition to serving as the bedrock of the Eagles’ defense as they try to become the ninth team in league history to repeat as Super Bowl champions, Jenkins continues to maximize the 24 hours in every day and make a positive difference in the world. His Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, founded in 2010, has made enormous impact in cities like Philadelphia, New Orleans (Jenkins was a first-round draft pick of the Saints in 2009), Columbus, Ohio (Jenkins played collegiately at Ohio State) and Piscataway, New Jersey (Jenkins’ hometown). In February 2017, Jenkins was announced as the recipient of the NFLPA’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award for his outstanding charitable efforts off the field, the most prestigious off-the-field award for an NFL player, named after the former great running back who later was a Supreme Court Justice for more than 30 years. 

The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation wanted to make inroads into another city and intensified its search late in 2017. Jenkins looked beyond the immediacy of Philadelphia and this past May, he hosted Get Ready Fest in the parking lot of Antioch Baptist Church in Camden. About 800 families came by on a rainy day for boxes of food, toiletries, books, school uniforms and supplies. The foundation also provided an array of social services. 

“It was an emotional day,” Jenkins says.  

“A lot of people were impacted. It’s a city with a lot of need, but what we’ve seen is there are a lot of people there who love Camden and who take pride in the city and are trying really, really hard to provide relief. Like anything else, it’s hard to climb out of poverty. It takes people who have influence, who have the resources, to bring jobs and training to empower people to help themselves.” 

Camden Mayor Frank Moran was one of those people. He embraced the interest from the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, knowing that Jenkins wasn’t offering lip service. Jenkins wasn’t interested in holding an event in Camden for the publicity. Jenkins wanted to be part of the fabric of the city. 

He wanted to make a profound difference. 

“When I met Malcolm, I found him to be a truly, truly humble man who has a passion for inner cities and the social injustices in the world today,” says Moran from his office overlooking the downtown leading to the Waterfront in Camden. “We hit it off. I thought he was genuine. His parents are passionate about the foundation. It’s more than just Malcolm. He has a team around him that wants to be part of something positive and bring change to inner cities.” 

“I talked to him about our small city, Camden. It’s nine square miles. It’s a small city with big-city issues that sometimes gets overlooked. We’re in the shadows of Philadelphia, the shadows of New York City, two metropolitan cities. We’re just as passionate as the Philadelphia residents with some of the needs we have, and Malcolm realized that. He said, ‘I want to double down. I want to do more in the city.’ It was rewarding to hear that.”   

Moran has big plans for Camden and a five-year blueprint to continue the city’s growth. His office cites the ongoing investments of about $2.5 billion into the infrastructure of the waterfront area, and that’s just a start. Moran knows that to make it happen, he’s going to need some help from friends. 

A relationship that began shortly after Moran took the oath of office earlier this year has blossomed into something much, much more. 

“When I look out my window currently I see a beautiful skyline of Philadelphia. We’re going to give Philadelphia something to look at in the next five years. Our skyline is transforming, and Camden is rising. That’s our slogan, ‘Camden is rising.’ And with the help of individuals like Malcolm and his foundation, we can. We can accomplish that,” says Moran, who texts Jenkins before games, wishing him good luck and good health.  

“We’re confident that he will have a long-lasting relationship with the city of Camden. It reassures me that a lot of these athletes are more than just what we see on the field. They have a mission, they’re individuals who care about their surroundings, i.e. where they play and where they live, and they’re individuals who are heroes in the eyes of kids and the people in the community. I texted him before the game wishing him a great game and to be safe. He responded to me after the game. It’s not a star-struck relationship. It’s a friendship. We’re building a rapport. He’s genuine about Camden, and I appreciate his interest and his efforts. He’s made a difference, and he’s continuing to make a difference.” 

Moran awarded Jenkins a key to the City of Camden last month, an honor that Jenkins says “meant a lot to me. To be able to be recognized by my home state is something I never dreamt of as a kid and to see how far my Foundation has come is far greater than I ever imagined.” He has more planned for Camden, including a Holiday Dinner Basket Surprise in December that will provide 135 families with a meal for the holidays and toys for the children. 

After that? Once Jenkins digs in, he doesn’t let go. He’s been brilliant at utilizing his time on and off the field and using the platform of the NFL to get his many messages on social injustices and reform heard. 

“I remember growing up hearing that Camden was the murder capital of the country. As I see it, it’s very much Philadelphia,” Jenkins says.  

“It’s right across the bridge, but it doesn’t get the resources or the attention that Philadelphia gets. It’s very much a city in need. You can see the work that’s being done there. Having the 76ers practice facility there was a start. You can see all the work being done along the waterfront. It’s important to me that in rebuilding and reconstructing Camden you don’t push out the original community. You don’t gentrify everyone out of there, but you rebuild it by providing opportunities and resources for people to climb up economically and take ownership of that city. That’s what we’re trying to do, to bring some opportunities to those people. 

“I think people develop hope when they see that other people care, that they’re not stuck in this environment alone without attention. That’s one of the biggest resources that I bring to the table: more eyes, and cameras. People who are looking for opportunities to give back shouldn’t forget about Camden.”

November 2018
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