Students from the 49ers Academy were given a special treat on Tuesday, September 23, as the 49ers, in cooperation with the NFL, brought them a special pre-screening of the new movie "The Express: The Ernie Davis Story."
In line with the 49ers "RESPECT" community outreach campaign, the movie, featuring the inspirational true story of the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner, served as an engaging medium for students of all ages to understand the message of respect. During "The Express", the students reacted audibly to multiple scenes and clapped and cheered when Davis demonstrated his incredible character.
Special guest Dr. Harry Edwards, the 49ers sports psychologist, was on hand to lead a rousing discussion after the screening on the issues presented both in the movie and today's society.
Dr. Edwards has been a professor at the University of California – Berkeley for 32 years and the movie's theme of breaking down racial barriers and achieving success in life on and off the football field are issues that Dr. Edwards has been examining for his entire career. He was generous enough to provide his own thoughts on the topics presented in "The Express" as well as share his own personal challenges as an African-American athlete in the 1950's.
"What you saw Ernie Davis and Jim Brown going through is what we all went through," Dr. Edwards said. "And that was at the schools which actually offered us scholarships. A lot of the colleges and universities, even entire conferences, would not even offer black athletes scholarships."
Along with sharing his story he provided advice for the students to follow in rising above the challenges of their own generation, which included having respect for one's self and others, having high expectations, behaving 'as if' they had achieved their goals, working hard, persevering and committing to service.
Team owner John York, CB Donald Strickland and DT Attiyah Ellison also enjoyed viewing the movie with the students. The movie, and Dr. Edwards' message, struck a chord with Strickland.
"Everything that I've encountered with my success was built with what Dr. Edwards was preaching: hard work and not taking any shortcuts, and learning how to persevere through all the different obstacles," Strickland shared. "You're going to be faced with different obstacles, whatever road you take, and the only way to get through is to keep trudging forward. It's a great message.
"These kids are the future of our country so we have to educate them and hopefully reach one or two of them," he continued. "Hopefully all of them get thee message, but if only one or two of them gets it then you've done a great service."
The 49ers Academy was founded in 1996 to serve middle school students from East Palo Alto who have been identified as 'at- risk' youth. The 49ers Academy aims to provide a safe and supportive environment that aids traditionally hard to reach with mentoring, tutoring and personal attention.