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49ers EDU Honors Recipients of Dr. Harry Edwards 'Follow Your Bliss' Award

Dr. Harry Edward visited the classroom of Follow Your Bliss recipient Nannette Reeves and gave an inspiration talk to the students of Cassell Elementary.

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The Dr. Harry Edwards "Follow Your Bliss" grant was created in 2017 by the 49ers Foundation for full-time educators across the Bay Area who exemplify a commitment to their students, families and communities to lead the future generation with purpose, passion, dedication and love.

The award's namesake stems from the first step in Dr. Edwards' Blueprint for Academic Achievement and Success: "Follow Your Bliss - Explore and consider paths that might lead not just to achieving a career interest but to realizing your calling – the educational option and emphasis that for you lies at the confluence of talent, passion, productive potential, and opportunity."

The award honors educators across the San Francisco Bay Area who lead the future generation with purpose, passion, dedication and love. The recipients of this award receive a $5,000 stipend for in-classroom materials and resources for the next academic year, mentorship of the recipients and his or her fellow teachers led by Dr. Edwards, and formal recognition at a Levi's® Stadium event with family and colleagues.

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Dr. Harry Edwards' success as an athlete, a sociologist and an activist can be attributed to a strong work ethic, a work ethic he had to develop at a young age growing up in East St. Louis. In 1960, Edwards packed his bags and moved to the west coast to attend San Jose State on an athletic scholarship. Edwards went on to earn the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a University Fellowship to Cornell University where he completed a masters and a Ph.D. in sociology.

Dr. Edwards has always been a catalyst for change. In 1968, he was the lead organizer behind the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Olympic athletes from San Jose State, took part in this movement when they raised their fist in Black Power salute when they received their medals on the Olympic stand during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

In 1986, Edwards also began his work with the 49ers developing programming and counseling methods for the entire organization. He worked closely with head coach Bill Walsh to develop the Minority Coaches' Internship program, which was later adopted by the NFL in 1992 and still exists today as the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship.

Dr. Edwards' work in the diversity and inclusion space has made him a leading authority on matters where race, sport, and society intersect, and he is considered a pioneering scholar in the founding of the sociology of sport as an academic discipline.

2020 Recipients

FollowYourBliss-Ashanti Branch-1x1

Ashanti Branch founded The Ever Forward Club in 2004 to provide support to African American and Latino students. His mission is simple, create healthy spaces for young men to be more of their true selves. Through his nonprofit and the support of schools in the community, Ashanti believes he can impact youth and help them heal from their experiences in order to grow into well-rounded citizens. Through Ever Forward, he started the Social-Emotional Summer Leadership Academy to help young men develop critical life skills to help them enter the workforce. Since its inception, Ever Forward has helped 100% of its members graduate high school with 93% going on to college.

FollowYourBliss-Megan Keefer-16x9

Megan Keefer has been a teacher and administrator for over 15 years, but just completed her first year as principal at Cal High. Megan has already made a tremendous impact on the school community implementing programs that celebrate diversity and inclusion. Her leadership is noticed and appreciated by those around her from teachers, students and their parents. She has also identified mental health as a top priority for her Cal High, creating a Wellness Center for students to use to encourage them to prioritize their mental health at school and develop positive habits to carry on into college and throughout the rest of their lives.

FollowYourBliss-Tiffany Ho-16x9

Tiffany Ho has taught for over 12 years. Tiffany has brought worldly experiences to her 29 fifth graders, introducing them to different careers and passions, like taking them to EA Sports to learn about video game development or to NASA, to learn what it takes to be an astronaut or even to her alma mater Holy Names University to inspire the next generation of teachers. The impact that Tiffany has had on her community and her students was put on display at her wedding when all six of her classes showed up to be a part of her wedding.

FollowYourBliss-Zeke Aguirre-16x9

Zeke Aguirre has gone above and beyond for his entire career to create and foster an inclusive culture both in his classroom and community. Growing up, Zeke was always told he should be a teacher. His father was a teacher in the New York prison system and his mother was a public nurse and coordinator for a New York WIC program. Following in their footsteps, Zeke took on a long-term substitute position at Osborne School, located inside the juvenile detention center in downtown San Jose. This experience opened his eyes to the number of students in juvenile hall who had learning disabilities and as a result, Zeke began teaching special education.

FollowYourBliss-Zubida Bakheit-16x9

Zubida Bakheit is an entrepreneur turned teacher. She entered the teaching field with a vision to create experimental learning opportunities for her students. Because of her background, Zubida sees the value in incorporating current events with classroom practice to create a space where students can connect real-life events to what they are learning in class to further engage her students beyond the confines of a book.

Past Recipients

2019:

  • Nannette Reeves, 5th-grade teacher at Sylvia Cassell Elementary
  • Dedra Downing, 2nd-grade teacher at Stipe Elementary
  • Dr. LuPaulette Taylor, 12th-grade teacher at McClymonds High School – School of Champions

2018:

  • Veronica Miranda-Pinkney, 5th-grade teacher at Walter L. Bachrodt Elementary