As we prepare for Pro Bowl Sunday, you'll hear me and my fellow NFL all-stars thank our teammates and coaches for their support throughout the season. It is a priority for me, as I'm interviewed this week, to emphasize that individual achievements are not usually attained without the dedication of a group of people working together to succeed. As someone who relies on others to reach my goals on the field, I know that having a strong team is essential to success.
It's no different with education. When high school graduates cross the stage and collect their diplomas, there are many people who helped to make that happen: parents, teachers, counselors, neighbors, librarians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, administrators, tutors, volunteers, coaches, business and other community leaders. These adults engage with our young people and help to make a difference in their lives--possibly the difference between graduating and not graduating. But not everyone has that support.
Did you know that one in four American kids don't finish high school on schedule? Graduation is not a given. Every day, 6,000 young people drop out because they aren't getting the support they need to finish; that's more than one million every year. In California, where I live, the dropout rate is 21.5 percent.
Not surprisingly, most of the kids who drop out come from low-income families and live in poor communities. The painful irony is that finishing high school would have meant earning, on average, 74 percent more money over a lifetime. A high school diploma is the single most powerful way to break the cycle of poverty that gets repeated generation after generation.
In 2007, I took students from Oakland, California on a college campus tour. They were students of color who were high achievers but who lacked necessary resources. After traveling with and getting to know these young people, I decided this was something I could do annually to empower students like them. To give them an opportunity to see the world outside their own neighborhoods, show them they have options, and most importantly give them the support they need to continue to achieve at high levels. The Asomugha College Tour for Scholars (ACTS) program was born. And it continues to grow.
In spring 2010, we took 16 students from both the Bay Area and Los Angeles to Washington, DC where we visited four different universities, met with our elected officials at the Capitol, bowled at the White House and even hung out with Alicia Keys. In four years, ACTS has taken 36 high school sophomores and juniors to colleges in four states. All of them are part of a strong team of achievers who continue to excel, and each of them knows that through ACTS they will receive the support that they need for continued success
I started partnering with United Way of the Bay Area in 2005 and am now the national NFL Ambassador for United Way's "Live United" campaign. My work with this new team has helped me to provide support for students not only in my home state, but all across the country. They have more than 100 years' experience helping children and youth in their communities. They generate $1 billion annually to do this work, and last year 2.5 million Americans joined United Way to support students of all ages.
United Way's focus on education starts when kids are born, since that's when learning starts. High school dropouts are at least 12 years in the making. The research says that for every 50 children who don't learn to read in kindergarten, 44 will still be struggling in third grade; if students aren't reading by then, they probably won't finish high school.
At United Way, their goal is to cut the number of high school dropouts in half by 2018. That means about 12 million more teenagers graduating. While this goal is ambitious, I believe that it is possible. We need more people to get involved with United Ways across the country, so I'm inviting you to join our team.
At www.LiveUnited.org you can learn about different ways you can help tackle the drop out crisis in your community. Whatever your talents, there is something you can do. Read to children, mentor a teenager, organize a book drive, help raise money or get other people involved. It's about teamwork, connecting people in the real world, building partnerships that build communities - and it works. You can learn more about ACTS and my foundation, the Asomugha Foundation, by visiting www.asomughafoundation.org.