Each season, the San Francisco 49ers present the annual Unity Award winners, named after the former 49ers players and pioneers of unity and diversity, Joe "The Jet" Perry and Wally Yonamine. The award honors a current 49ers player, a Bay Area youth football coach and a local non-profit agency that have demonstrated, as Perry and Yonamine did, an exceptional commitment to promoting unity within their team and in their community.
This year, the winners were 49ers cornerback Donald Strickland, Coyote Creek Youth Sports football and cheerleading coach Andre K. Hunt, and Abraham's Vision, a Redwood City based non-profit. In honor of their achievements, the San Francisco 49ers Foundation made a contribution in their names to the Coyote Creek Youth Sports Pop Warner program, Abraham's Vision, and, on behalf of Donald Strickland, the San Francisco Police Activities League (SFPAL).
This past weekend, on Saturday, January 24, Donald Strickland attended the annual San Francisco Police Activities League Celebration Event to honor the San Francisco Seahawks youth football and cheerleading teams for their success and commitments this season both athletically and academically. The San Francisco Seahawks is one of the many youth sports teams SFPAL builds within the community to develop personal character and foster a positive relationship among police officers, youth and dedicated volunteers.
Strickland, a Bay Area native, participated in SFPAL for three years from the ages of 10 and 13 playing on the San Francisco Seahawks while growing up in the Hunter's Point/Bayview district.
During the event, Strickland presented the SFPAL with a $10,000 check from the 49ers Foundation on his behalf for winning the Unity Award to use towards their youth programs in San Francisco which include baseball, basketball, cheerleading, football, judo, soccer and law enforcements cadets. Strickland also spoke to the youth, where 15 years ago he sat as a child to receive his annual awards, about the dedication and commitment needed to be successful both as an athlete and as student.
Throughout the event, youth approached Strickland for his autograph and for the opportunity to meet and take pictures with one of their favorite NFL players. In almost every interaction Strickland had he made sure to discuss the importance of good grades and make sure the kids were staying focused on their books in addition to their football training.
Strickland attributes the start of his success to being a part of the San Francisco Seahawks and SFPAL .
"This program really started my journey with football. It instilled in me the discipline to develop a work ethic, to compete and just to follow my dreams and I just want other youth to experience the experiences that I had through this organization because they are memories I will never forget and just as it benefitted me, it can benefit them and they can do a lot with the money."
Strickland presented the check to his former coach and current Seahawks Football Director, Greg Isom. Isom spoke of Strickland's drive and character while in the program as a child.
"I have probably coached several hundred kids throughout the program, but just looking back Donald has always stood out among the regular kids. One, he was an exceptional athlete for the age that he was coming out, but he was so humbled and he was blessed with a lot of athletic ability but he didn't carry himself like that. He worked harder than all the other kids."
Strickland hasn't changed. Both on and off the field Strickland still is determined to be the best athlete and football player he can be while continuing to give back to the community he started his success in.
Throughout the 2008 season alone, Strickland participated in a wide variety of community events ranging from a Santa Clara build for Habitat-for-Humanity, boxing food for homeless families with the San Francisco Food Bank, Building Bikes for Kids Bike Build, among more. Strickland is also working on finalizing his own foundation to help mentor Bay Area youth stay on track as student athletes.
Most recently, Strickland participated in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara Valley's Freedom Train, a Caltrain ride from San Jose to San Francisco to recognize the inspirational life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Strickland joined fellow teammates Tully Banta-Cain and Mark Roman on the ride.
Strickland's giving ways is something he clearly learned from his parents. His mother, Gwen Strickland, was also honored at the event on Saturday for creating the Seahawks Moms program, which according to Isom, is just doing everything right and necessary to help make the children successful in life. Even after her son has been out of the program for almost 15 years, Mrs. Strickland is still tied to helping the youth currently in the program any way she can.