By Alysha Conner
INGLEWOOD —In the wake of a dual pandemic, police brutality and COVID-19, hitting home for Inglewood residents, the Los Angeles Rams have stepped up to drive and inspire hope.
After news surfaced about George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, Rams quarterback Jared Goff decided enough is enough.
“Jared was one of the first players to reach out after George Floyd’s killing,” said Molly Higgins, vice president of Rams community affairs and player engagement.
“He sent me a text and said, ‘I want to help. How can I be of assistance?’ I said to him then, addressing education inequities is one of the greatest ways to provide kids that foundation for upward mobility.”
Goff’s willingness to combat systemic racism spearheaded a recent chain of Rams community outreach programs for Inglewood Unified School District students.
He started by first meeting with district representatives to discuss how the Rams could help meet their students’ needs and put them on paths to future success.
“Jared and I had several Zoom meetings with the district’s leadership like county Administrator Erika Torres and Chief Academic Officer Bernadette Lucas,” Higgins said. “We wanted to hear from them to know what their priorities were and how Jared could be of assistance. Literacy is a huge deal for the district, especially those first through third graders.”
“You’re learning to read from first to third grade, and beyond third grade, they say you’re reading to learn. So, you have to get that foundation down first to set yourself up for future academic success. That was something that really resonated with Jared.”
Research has found that students exposed to work-based learning opportunities are more likely to enter college than those who aren’t.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, school closures and disruptions in the 2020-21 school year are projected to have a lasting effect on student outcomes and preparedness.
Those disruptions can be even more detrimental in communities of color, like Inglewood.
The Rams believe that a child’s education and future opportunities should not be dictated by their zip code and see education as a social justice issue.
“It’s much broader and deeper than just police brutality,” Higgins said. “It’s a terrible injustice. … But, to us, social justice is a fight for equity, access and equal opportunity.”
“I think so often, people see all these social injustices and are almost paralyzed, not knowing what to do because these issues are so systemic. Our players are taking this very seriously and raising their hands to say how we can be of assistance.”
Goff has recently taken the time on his off days to connect with Inglewood elementary school students through virtual book readings.
In one of his readings, Goff read “I Knew You Could!” by Craig Dorfman to a first-grade class at Kelso Elementary School.
“So, what do you do with a chance?” Goff asked the students as he flipped to the last page. “You take it … because it might be the beginning of something incredible.”
Some of the students wrote comments in the Zoom chat box that read, “This is the best. You were doing good, thank you. He is good. That’s so amazing.”
Goff’s virtual volunteering inspired Rams linebacker Kenny Young and cheerleader Michelle C. to read to Warren Lane Elementary School students as well.
On Oct. 27, Goff announced on his Instagram page that he would be helping Warren Lane Elementary School even further by building out its library.
All proceeds for the library will come from merchandise sales from Goff’s apparel line, JG16, including a personal matched donation.
The library is expected to be equipped with new furniture, books, and other incentives when in-person school returns.
“Warren Lane is certainly a school that we want to wrap our arms around and really show some love,” Higgins said.
“It’s an important school for the community and the district. We see a lot of opportunities to come in and show some love to those students.”
In May, Goff also put on a school supplies giveaway event in Inglewood as a kick-off to his first of now many community outreach initiatives.
He passed out Scholastic Book packs and JG16 backpacks to 1,000 students.
“Something that is important to Jared and what he’s repeated time and time is that it wasn’t just about the backpack and book distribution,” Higgins said. “It’s not a one-time event. It’s a long-term commitment.”
Furthermore, the Rams have recently committed to pick, partner, and provide funding to local nonprofit organizations that focus on social justice advocacy.
The Rams have been hosting Zoom conferences this month to allow nonprofits to deliver virtual pitches about how donations from the Rams can contribute to their work.
Each organization provides relief for different social justice issues like education, workforce development, criminal justice reform, homelessness, and food insecurity.
“I’m super proud of players because this is something that they’re leading,” Higgins said. “Part of the goal is to expose our guys to a lot of the amazing nonprofits that are boots on the ground working every day to address these social injustices. It’s about letting them know that there is work being done already. So, if we can help lift these nonprofits and provide them some additional support. Whether that’s financial assistance or promotional support.”
Alysha Conner is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers Inglewood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.