Life after football. After the pads and cleats are put in the locker for the last time, many players are left to wonder “what now?” Is a peaceful life of retirement ahead of them? Or should they seek out the next game or competition to keep that fire inside of them alive?
Enter Kareem McKenzie. The New Jersey native is a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants. And along with his pursuance of a post-grad degree in public counseling (focusing in mental health), the former offensive lineman is setting his sights to help his community, as well as other communities on the East Coast. McKenzie, also the official ambassador for the Ronald McDonald House Charities African American Future Achievers Scholarship, sat with EBONY to discuss the importance of supporting the students and future leaders of our communities.
EBONY: Coming from South Jersey and understanding the opportunities or lack thereof that students face in those communities, what sparked the interest in becoming a part of the Ronald McDonald scholarship?
Kareem McKenzie: There was a commitment that I felt to the community. You don’t really hear of four-year scholarships and tuition assistance geared towards African-American students or students of Caribbean descent. One of the metrics we look for is if the student comes from a one-parent household. Being a member of the selection committee, I have a chance to read some of the submission essays to get a pulse of what our young people are doing, as well as what they’re looking to do with their education if granted the scholarship. And even looking back on the past recipients and where they’ve graduated from—schools like Brown, Columbia—and what they’ve done with their opportunity, it presses us to continue to look for the next leaders of our community and give them a chance.
EBONY: How do you feel that your athletic career and your accomplishments in football as a Super Bowl champion impact your work with the scholarship?
KM: I think it’s very unique in the fact that I myself am back in grad school now looking to focus on public counseling in mental health. It allows me to look back and realize how unprepared I was 14 years ago when I first graduated from college. So in a sense, I have as much of a student mentality as our aspirants do, and I can relate to them and see things from their perspective. I also realize the importance of being able to further your education, and finding those hidden gems in our community that could let them have that opportunity.
EBONY: With college tuition skyrocketing, is there a network of past participants that provide sort of a mentorship program or club that helps out future members?
KM: We definitely try to press upon our past recipients to come back and show the future students what can be done with our scholarship and where it can take you. We also charge them to help spread the word. Most students miss out on scholarship opportunities simply because they weren’t aware of them. So word of mouth is definitely key in our growth. And for those who don’t know, this scholarship is actually funded by the change bins in front of the register at your local McDonald’s. So the people are helping our future leaders attain their education. And as this particular scholarship is focusing on the New York/New Jersey area, it’s all about giving out inner city the fighting chance to get the education they deserve.
EBONY: So for the person reading this, whether it’s the applicant or their families, what are you looking for in a scholarship recipient?
KM: We are looking for achievers, people that are looking to do great things both academically and in their community as well. We want the best of the best, and we want to give that person the chance they deserve. If you’re aiming to be the driving force in your household, your neighborhood, your community? We want you.
Interested in applying for the Ronald McDonald House Charities African American Future Achievers Scholarship? If you live on the East Coast, go to www.rmhcnytristate.org for more information on how to apply. Applications are due 1/20/15.
Cory Townes was born and raised in Philadelphia, and currently lives in Brooklyn. A devout Philly sports fan, Townes is the Social Media Manager for EBONY.com. When he’s not planning his cheering on his Philadelphia Eagles or creating musical playlists for the people, you can reach him on Twitter @CoryTownes.