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JA: 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead tackles literacy in his free time

JA: 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead tackles literacy in his free time
JA: 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead tackles literacy in his free time 04:35

SAN FRANCISCO - A member of the San Francisco 49ers defensive line helps level the playing field to give underserved children a playbook for future success.

Welcome to "Storytime with Arik." Arik Armstead reads to hundreds of students at McKinley Elementary in San Francisco for Black History Month. It's his way of tackling literacy.

"That's really the main thing: Inspire them to want to read, find reading fun, find it important, and encourage them to continue reading," Armstead said.

Why reading? The 49er defensive end hopes to help close the gap among at-risk students lagging behind in language arts. Besides that, he himself struggled with reading as a kid.

"It became like an anxiety-provoking thing for me, where I was scared to read out loud, didn't think I was smart enough, and took some extra work and people helping me," he described.

And now, he's helping others.

In fact, second grader Nilah Hunt learned a lot from the storybook Armstead read about freedom.

"You can find free-ness no matter where you are and no matter who you are," she said.

"Freedom is for everyone, everywhere. That's a great answer," Armstead affirmed.

The Elk Grove native has read to more than three thousand students at schools and even online as far as the Middle East.

The storytimes are part of the Armstead Academic Project which Armstead and his wife founded in 2019. From football camps to mentoring youth in detention, the nonprofit has reached 5,000 at-risk youth from the Bay Area to Sacramento.

"I saw a big issue with educational equity in our country. I wanted to do everything I could do to solve that problem," Armstead explained.

The Armstead Academic Project has provided free tutoring, STEM education, chrome books, writing workshops, and field trips to colleges, in partnership with affordable housing developer Mercy Housing.

At each event, Armstead gives students more than his time and autographed photos. He's poured more than a half million dollars of his own money into his nonprofit.

In fact, Arik has been the Niners' nominee for NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for the last three years for his outstanding community service. Each nominee receives $40,000 for their respective charity.

Ashlei Hurst of Mercy Housing has known him since middle school.

"He's humble, kind, down to earth. He's a true family man of great faith. He believes in giving back to the community," Hurst said.

At the end of the school reading assembly, Armstead showed everyone how he celebrates making a tackle on the field:

"I let everyone know I'm hungry and rub my belly and go ahhh!" he demonstrated on stage.

And even as the Niners' Number 91 shares his signature move, the role model inspires kids to "stay hungry" for learning.

"It's my responsibility to give back to my community: if someone has to do it, I feel like it's me," he said.

So for giving underserved students a winning chance to thrive through the Armstead Academic Project, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Arik Armstead.

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