A high school honor student and the NFL’s highest-paid defensive back stroll down the destitute streets of Skid Row. Seventeen-year-old Kenneth Chancey is giving a tour to Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders’ All-Pro cornerback worth $45 million, showing the NFL star the streets that he and his sister used to walk to get to school while living in a Skid Row homeless shelter. Prostitutes, addicts and drug dealers scatter.
It is Kenneth’s inner strength and his love for education that have brought together this high school class president and NFL star. “The things he’s been through are so big and so severe — they were threatening our lives and throwing things at us on Skid Row” Asomugha said later. But it doesn’t bother him. “His potential meter is at 1,000 right now.”
Even while Kenneth lived on Skid Row, he dreamed of attending Harvard to become a neurosurgeon. When Asomugha saw Kenneth’s story on CNN, he wanted to help. He runs a foundation, the Asomugha College Tour for Scholars that takes talented inner-city kids on tours of college campuses they otherwise would never be able to see. He’s helped get 25 teens into college over the last four years. “I’m thankful to be able to give back,” Asomugha said.
Asomugha came from a family where education was stressed from day one. He remembers asking his mom as a boy, “Can I have some ice cream?” “No,” she responded. “You haven’t finished your homework.” “I’d say, ‘but I’m 3!'” Asomugha’s sister is a pediatrician, his mother holds a doctorate. Two other siblings have secondary degrees. The football star, who is the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history, has a degree in finance from the University of California-Berkeley.
On this day, he’s come to tell Kenneth that he will be among the 16 students traveling in the spring to visit schools in Washington, D.C., a week long all expenses paid trip. Asomugha is hoping that Obama might be willing to meet up with them at some point during this special trip. Hours before the Skid Row tour, Asomugha traveled to Hollywood’s Helen Bernstein High School, where Kenneth is a starting running back in his senior year. They met at the school’s football stadium, where Asomugha told Kenneth in person.
Kenneth is energized. “I’m going to be the first one in my family to get a secondary education,” he told Asomugha. “And everyone will follow you,” his father added.
Kenneth spent his sixth-grade year living in a van with his mother and stepfather. His sister once was beaten up by someone who wanted her shirt. Kenneth was held up at gunpoint for his laptop. He refused to hand it over because his grandmother bought it for him. Outside Kenneth’s earshot, the NFL star talked about how the teen is an inspiration, doing all the right things to achieve greatness in life. “You don’t hear about guys like Kenneth,” Asomugha said. “When you have your back against the wall and you’re trying to fight and there are so many things — so many obstacles — against you but you’re still keeping your head above the water like he’s doing … the sky’s the limit.”
On the tour at Skid Row, Kenneth took Asomugha to the shelter’s rooftop. It’s a million-dollar view of the Los Angeles skyline. It’s where Kenneth studied. It’s also where he learned his biggest lesson: to always keep his head up. The student and the football player leaned over the building’s ledge. Down below, drug deals were being made. “Anytime you look down over the ledge, you start to see the negative,” Asomugha said. “When you keep your head up, you’re seeing all the positive.”
To watch the CNN coverage of the original and follow-up video visit: http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/06/24/homeless.to.harvard/index.html#cnnSTCVideo