By Julie Bacanskas
Now in the eighth season of his NFL career, Malcolm Jenkins has perspective.
It didn’t come when he was selected No. 14 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. It didn’t come from the Super Bowl his team won that same season as the rookie was credited with five tackles in the win over the Indianapolis Colts. But when he was asked to convert to the role of free safety in 2010, he started thinking - thinking about what sort of impact he wanted to have as a player and as a man.
“I started to think about the league and when I’m done with football what do I want to do? Where do I want to invest my money?” recalls Jenkins today. “When it’s all said and done, what would I like to say that I did with all that I have? The answer I came up with is that I want to be able to invest in people.”
While still with the Saints, Jenkins found a way to breathe some life into this vision. After talking with his mother, Gwendolyn, he created The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation. The mission was to emphasize mentorship, character development and leadership for youth.
“I don’t want to just hand stuff out to people. I don’t want to just spend five minutes with people and that’s it. I want to build people up to really succeed and then have them in turn go around and do the same thing for others,” Jenkins says.
In 2014, the safety signed a three-year deal with the Eagles. He finished his first season with 80 tackles and a career-high three interceptions. In 2015, he was named to his first-ever Pro Bowl after registering career and team highs of 120 tackles, 15 passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
“The only way to do that is to really invest in people’s educations, spend time with people, give them experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have and teach them skills and things that they can develop to then kind of take off on their own,” explains Jenkins. “That’s really been the overall theme of everything that I do – how to be a gateway for people to tap into their own skills, their own abilities and allow them to flourish.”
“All of those places are special to me,” Jenkins says. “One of the things we try to do with the foundation is give experiences that kids most likely won’t encounter or have.”
The safety draws this concept from his own life.
“I know that on all of those stops, I’ve had experiences that people in my family haven’t had, my brothers haven’t had, that have really made me who I am,” Jenkins says. “So, I want to make sure that I give back to those specific communities, especially in the way of giving experiences. Every region is different, so we find different ways to give according to the needs of the areas.”
Jenkins and his foundation’s team watched the nonprofit Feed the Children cater an event in New Orleans for NBA All-Star Weekend in 2014. They got in touch with them and started to work together.
“It’s a really good thing where you basically come up with the money and the volunteers and they show up with a truck full of food for a week,” the Pro Bowl safety says. “You’re able to feed I think it’s something like 1,500 people per truck. We’ve done that three or four times in Philadelphia and Columbus (Ohio).”
Another program The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation promotes is centered on youth football camps.
“We do our annual football camp in my hometown of Piscataway every summer. We get guys around the league to come back and hang out with the kids for two days,” Jenkins explains. “We also have the parents talk to some of the local physicians about youth sports and safety, how to keep their kids safe playing football and sports. Each region is different and one of the things we’re trying to do is build programs like we have in New Orleans in each of these.”
In Philadelphia, Jenkins worked closely with the Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center at Drexel University to establish a second full-scale program for The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation. In July 2016, a pilot for Summer S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Athletics and Mathematics) launched and was another roaring success.
“We’re taking kids from the Promise Zone in West Philly where I think it’s like 51 percent of the people in that two-mile radius are living in poverty. Really, they’re right down the street from Drexel University, where all this crazy stuff is happening, but probably won’t ever be able to experience it,” Jenkins says. “We’re bringing them into the ExCITe Center and showing them all kinds of things. We talk about gaming and computer programming and art, music and how all of these things actually intertwine. In normal schools, you learn all of those things as different disciplines.
“What they’re doing in the ExCITe Center is kind of introducing these kids to how all of these things can be used in one, cohesive work. It allows them to use their creativity to make something of their own. It was pretty cool. We did a pilot program this past summer for a week and got a lot of good responses from the kids. They enjoyed it and next year, we’ve already got the funding to add another course, so it would be two weeks. We’ll do two separate sets of kids.”
Jenkins is working hard to leave his mark on the communities where he has lived and played football. He continues to increase his foundation’s resources as well. Recently, his annual Blitz, Bow Ties & Bourbon Fundraiser in Philadelphia raised more than $90,000.
Now well established in the NFL and as a member of the Eagles, he is clear that his vocation is enhancing the lives of young people across the country.
But Malcolm Jenkins isn’t close to claiming that this vision is complete. He’s only just beginning.