Dr. Harry Edwards Talks 'Setting an Example' in the Community and Why Bay Area Teachers are so Special

Dr. Harry Edwards sat down with 49ers EDU senior manager Sofy Navarro to discuss the impact of teachers on the community and the Follow Your Bliss award.


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.


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.

2021 Recipients


Binh Dao's work as an Educator at a Title 1 school and in a community where resources are limited has led him to engage both students and parents to ensure needs are met. Binh has worked as a substitute teacher for six years and as a full-time teacher for the past seven years to diversify learning to be inclusive and honor the entire community. He hopes to become a school principal in the future to increase his ability to make a greater impact. Also, for over 20 years, Binh has volunteered his time to direct and run youth programs at the non-profit, Vietnamese Educational and Cultural Association (VECA) and at Buddhist temples throughout Northern California.


Brittney-Lynn Filimoehala-Egan is the acting unit director at the Lomita Park Elementary School site for the Mid-Peninsula Boys & Girls Club (MPBGC). Under her leadership and direct teaching, she has led over 125 students, many of whom are at-risk youth, to meet grade level standards both before and during the pandemic. MPBGC use the same standardized testing program as their partner schools, including Lomita Park Elementary, to measure students' academic progress at the Club sites in comparison to the schools they attend. The most recent annual assessment showed that even during the pandemic, all eight Kindergarten and Transition-Kindergarten students in Brittney's program scored higher in their assessments than the other students in their classroom.


Cory Jong teaches 6th-grade humanities and starts the school year off with building relationships. She teaches with the mindset of "they don't care what you know until they know that you care." She has made regular home visits with students during the pandemic to reinforce her commitment to helping them succeed. Cory is dedicated to instilling a deep sense of pride in students and goes above and beyond to help students build confidence in themselves. She is excited to be at the forefront of ethnic studies curriculum development at the middle school level for the district. As staff sponsor of Warriors for Justice, she supports the organizing of a youth-led, school-based social justice club addressing intersectional climate justice issues. She is pursuing her passion as an educator-organizer, encouraging students to gain leadership experience and to "be the change they wish to see in the world."


Michele Lamons-Raiford is a hearing American Sign Language (ASL) teacher at Pinole Valley High School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. She has been a high school teacher for the past 19 years, previously teaching all levels of English, from remedial to Advanced Placement courses. She has also been an Adjunct English Instructor at Solano Community College for the past 14 years. At Pinole, Michele is also the co-sponsor of the African American Student Union, sponsor of Indian Pakistani Student Union, co-sponsor of the New Teacher Mentor Program, and coach for the Speech and Debate Team. She was born, raised and still resides in Vallejo, is married, has a six year old son with special needs and considers herself blessed to still have both of her parents living in their early 80s. Lastly, she plays guitar at her church, where she has attended for the past thirty years.


Emmanuel Stewart has been a leader and educator in the San Francisco Unified School District for 30 years. He leads with empathy, commitment and dedication to students and the community. By emphasizing trust and transparency in his work, Emmanuel builds relationships and credibility amongst his community. Since joining the Harvey Milk community, during the pandemic and school closure his commitment has been reopening. Harvey Milk is one of a few elementary schools in the San Francisco Unified School District open five days a week.

Past Recipients


  • Zeke Aguirre, special education teacher at Andrew P. Hill High School
  • Zubida Bakheit, 6th-8th grade math and science teacher at American Indian Model Schools
  • Ashanti Branch, Founder, The Ever Forward Club
  • Tiffany Ho, 5th-grade teacher at St. Bede Catholic School
  • Megan Keefer, principal at California High School


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


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