Arik Armstead is well aware of the opportunities education and sports have provided him. The San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle is also well aware of the lack of opportunities many face due to various factors, including location and socioeconomic status.
Because of this, the 26-year-old has made it a priority to try to level the playing field, especially for less-fortunate students in his hometown of Sacramento, California. Launched in 2019, the Armstead Academic Project has a mission to “ensure every student, no matter their socioeconomic status, has direct access to quality education through a positive learning environment and resources needed in order to thrive and be successful.”
“When I sat down and thought about how I could have the biggest impact in Sacramento,” Armstead said, “the No. 1 glaring theme in terms of when you look at equality in our society, the achievement gap and financial gap between socioeconomic classes, education was glaring for me to address some of those issues.”
The Armstead Academic Project offers various programs to assist and empower at-risk and underserved students including creative and scholastic workshops, school supply programs, and scholarships.
Two years ago, Armstead took a group of students from Leataata Floyd Elementary School—located a short drive from where he grew up—to a creative writing workshop where they wrote a story together about a crime-fighting rapper with superpowers. The 17th overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, who signed a five-year, $85 million extension in March 2020, recently donated $50,000 of his own money and raised more than $200,000 with Bayside Church to donate to the Mercy Housing Learning Program. The funding covers Chromebooks, at-home internet for a year, educational kits and healthy snacks for 350 students in order to continue distance learning despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic has magnified the inequalities across the United States, particularly in the school system, Armstead said. There are approximately 1.2 million students across California without a reliable internet connection, making it seemingly impossible for virtual learning. Not only do many students lack necessary technology and resources for distance learning, many also rely on meals provided at schools to eat—more than 30 million children across the country participate in the National School Lunch Program, while approximately 15 million benefit from the School Breakfast Program.
“This may be the new norm for a long time, so we have to reintroduce students to that and give them access to what they need,” Armstead said. “A lot of kids survive off of the meals they get at school so when you take those away, what can they do now? With the pandemic it shows the disparities at the home level too. The healthcare crisis and education disparities have been glaring and with coronavirus they are in your face, undeniable.”
The workforce has also been impacted by the pandemic, with 22 million jobs lost in March and April. While 7 million jobs came back in May and June, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was still at 11.1% as of June.
To help expedite the hiring process, while removing any potential hiring bias, Armstead has partnered with Humanly, a platform that screens and schedules job candidates at scale.
Studies have shown that recruiters spend an average of 7.4 seconds per resume, and that 70% of job listings contain masculine words. Because of this, Humanly is focused on improving efficiency and equity within the hiring process.
“We’re really lucky to have (Arik) on board,” Humanly CEO and co-founder Prem Kumar said. “He’s been very vocal, and it’s more than just his thoughts and where his heart’s at, it’s where his actions are at. He’s a strong leader. He’s a great kid and a great person. It’s been big for us.”
For Armstead, who is coming off a Super Bowl appearance with the 49ers, he sees it as his responsibility to acknowledge and attempt to positively change the inequalities in society, particularly in education.
“It’s the if-not-me-then-who approach,” Armstead said. “If people in positions of power or who have platforms and resources don’t speak up for others and don’t speak up for your community, then who will do it? That’s my approach. That’s why I take that responsibility to be a leader in my community and to speak up for those who don’t have a voice, and to provide access and resources and leverage my platform to pour resources back into my community because if I’m not doing it and people like me aren’t doing it then who will do it?”