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Using His Voice for Good: How Oren Burks is Inspiring Change in The Bay

Since Oren Burks joined the team during the 2022 free agency period, the San Francisco 49ers linebacker has committed to making a lasting impact on the Bay Area.

"There's a sense of pride that comes from living in the Bay Area," Burks said. "I'm from Virginia, the opposite side of the country, but anytime you meet someone from The Bay, they're proud to represent. There's so much culture and energy around here, it's just a sense of pride that they have. In turn, being here with the 49ers, I have a sense of pride in the Bay Area too. I think it's contagious, an energy that just flows."

Not only is the linebacker dedicated to bringing victory to the region, but he's also dedicated to uplifting the local community. Burks is a representative of the Players Social Justice Council, a group of 49ers athletes who unite to find ways to elevate marginalized groups in The Bay. The council includes members such as defensive lineman Arik Armstead and long snapper Taybor Pepper, and was formed at the start of the 2021 season when the team announced its 10-year commitment to extend the team's social justice grant program.

"The ownership does a great job of giving back to the community in impactful ways," Burks said. "They want players to have a voice on where their resources go. As a committee, we make the decisions of how those resources are allocated in the Bay Area, whether it's in Oakland, San Francisco, or down here in the South Bay. We get to partner with nonprofits that are doing great work here and give back in different ways.

"We're a group of like-minded guys who want to make a difference, whether that's through criminal justice reform, reducing the rate of recidivism, there's lots of different ways guys get involved."

Burks and the Players Social Justice Council have since worked hand-in-hand with organizations in the Bay Area who focus on racial equality in policing, ending mass incarceration and educational and economic advancement for young Black people. Most recently, in honor of the NFL's Inspire Change campaign, the 49ers invited formerly incarcerated men to Levi's® Stadium and visited San Quentin State Prison to hold valuable discussions on social justice and continue to learn how the team can better "inspire change."

"We initiated this grant program to empower organizations working on the front lines of the battle for racial equality to deliver positive impacts for individuals throughout our community," 49ers CEO Jed York said. "Our resolve to be a force for change has been strengthened during that time by the relationships our organization has developed with these organizations and the obvious need for continued investment in more programs like these."

The team's 10-year commitment to supporting local nonprofits follows a year that saw 49ers-backed social justice organizations shepherd four criminal justice reform bills signed into law in California, free or exonerate five people and reduce the statewide inmate total by 22,000 to the lowest number in three decades. The grants from the 49ers have also provided mentoring and leadership development sessions to high school students, meals to over 3,200 families experiencing food insecurity, job training, financial empowerment sessions and expanded staff and services for multiple grantees.

"We know we have a huge platform, so it's just about using that for good," Burks said. "Using our platform for the voices that aren't necessarily heard. The York family is truly supportive of any initiatives that we have brought to them, they've been 100 percent ready to jump on. It's been great to see how the players' voices, the organization's voice and the needs here in the Bay Area can all come together to truly create change."

The San Francisco 49ers hosted a group of 10 men who have been involved in the justice system for a special afternoon at Levi's® Stadium and discussion on social justice.

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