James Ihedigbo of the Baltimore Ravens is the epitome of a well-rounded guy. Ihedigbo is a professional football player, a scholar, and a philanthropist. The University of Massachusetts graduate has the distinction of appearing in the last four AFC Championship game, albeit with three different teams. Ihedigbo’s proudest work and honor comes from his non-profit public charitable foundation HOPE Africa.
HOPE Africa has created a platform to grant academic scholarships and build a broader structure for its mentorship program, by providing volunteer opportunities, internships and a network of professionals to aid in facilitating projects. The foundations focus is to establish a continuing system of resources for future scholars.
BSO recently had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking to Ihedigbo about HOPE Africa, the wonderful service it provides, and the NFL Draft Cocktail Fundraiser he will co-host with Tutan Reyes of Beyond The Boroughs.
BSO: James can you tell our BlackSportsOnline readers and those who are wondering a little about the your foundation HOPE Africa, and some of the things you guys try to do.
JI: HOPE Africa is a non-profit public charity that provides academic scholarships and a broader structure: volunteer opportunities, internships and a network of people to help them create sustainable projects with the aim of establishing a continuing system of resources for future generations. It was piloted by parents efforts and them working their way out of rural Nigeria. They came over to the United States to help better their lives and ours as well. My parents were able to both get PhD’s in education. My parents wanted to be able to return to Africa to give back the same opportunities. My parents started an agricultural college in Nigeria. My father passed away in 2002, so his legacy and everything he left behind is a big inspiration in what I do.
BSO: Would you say your father was a major inspiration in you starting the foundation?
JI: Of course, of course. Yes both my parents Dr. Rose, and Dr. Apollos were the backbone for me starting this organization. They both traveled and worked while attending to gain their doctorates. They did all that while raising five kids as well.
BSO: You are having a high-profile fundraising event on NFL Draft night next Thursday, can you tell us a little about that event?
JI: It’s our major fundraiser that we do every year. it’s our second year co-hosting it with Beyond The Boroughs. It’s an NFL Draft fundraiser where NFL players from all across the league attend this event. Guys like Victor Cruz, Calvin Johnson and Ray Rice all come out and support the cause. Fans get to buy tickets and watch the first round of the Draft with their favorite NFL stars. The players aren’t in VIP or behind a glass or anything. It’s a fun exciting night and red carpet event to support HOPE Africa and Beyond The Borough.
BSO: You went to UMass, Victor Cruz went to UMass, what is your opinion of your school and the presence it has in the NFL?
JI: Its awesome. You think about two guys from the same IAA school and we both have Super Bowl rings. It’s guys that play in this league 14 or 15 years that never get to experience such a thing. We both talk all the time and are proud of each other. We went to UMass together and it’s very exciting.
BSO: I read somewhere that you are the only player that I to have played in four straight AFC Championship games. What was has that experience been like?
JI: Yes that’s true. Two with the New York Jets, one with the Patriots and this year with the Ravens. It’s an amazing thing. It drives you to play harder and worker harder. Now I’m finally a world champion, and I want another one.
BSO: What was it like winning a world championship with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two all time greats?
JI: It’s amazing. Playing with two all time greats. It was a life changing experience. The type of knowledge that comes from those two guys. Ray Lewis’ ability to captivate you with his speaking and motivation. Ed Reed’s preparation, his leadership, his ability to execute at a high level, it definitely changed my career.
BSO: How can people get involved with HOPE Africa?
JI: You can definitely go to www.hopeafricausa.org and get tickets to the event. You can also donate to the organization or donate your time. But definitely go to the website because it’s going to be an exciting time.