Malcolm Jenkins: Buckeye, NFL player, community leader
Off the field, Jenkins strives to improve the lives of children and advocates for community policing and criminal justice reform.
When Malcolm Jenkins’ helmet and pads come off, he uses a simple tactic to advocate for community policing and criminal justice reform: starting a conversation. Whether he’s visiting U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan or engaged in a panel discussion with Ohio State students, the Philadelphia Eagles safety and former Buckeye hopes that leveraging the power of a face-to-face conversation can lead to change.
This level of engagement is nothing new to Jenkins, who established a charitable foundation for children who live in underserved neighborhoods in 2010, the year after he graduated from Ohio State. The foundation helps youngsters develop teamwork and leadership skills, awards scholarships to first-generation college students and partners on a program to build STEM skills, among other initiatives.
This passion for the greater good has evolved even further in the last year and a half, as Jenkins absorbed the national conversation, particularly news about the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, both shot by police officers in 2016. Weary of the rift between police and the African American community, he decided he needed to do more.
The most public expression of that desire has happened on the sidelines, where Jenkins has silently raised a fist during the national anthem. Away from the field, though, he continued to leverage his platform, joining some of his teammates in conversation with Philadelphia’s police commissioner and city leaders about the mistrust of law enforcement among black people and the challenges faced by police officers. He started researching connections between the war on drugs of the 1980s and ’90s and an increase in the incarceration of black men in particular.
And he began to focus on solutions to end the cycle of incarceration and help ex-cons move beyond their criminal records. The issue is personal for Jenkins, who has witnessed his younger brother struggle for years after being found guilty of marijuana possession in high school.
“His record has stopped him from getting jobs and providing for his family,” Jenkins says. “It has been frustrating to watch him fight to better himself to be a productive citizen, only to be constantly denied the opportunity because of the exposure from the criminal justice system. He will own everything that has come from his decision, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s counterproductive.”
In June, Jenkins — along with Ibraheim Campbell of the Cleveland Browns and former Buckeyes Chris “Beanie” Wells and Raekwon McMillan — signed a letter to Ohio state senators in support of Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP), a program that diverts low-level offenders from state prison into community treatment programs. The program has drawn a mixed reaction from state officials.
“Community-based alternatives such as substance abuse treatment and mental health support have been shown to reduce the recidivism rates for low-level offenders,” Jenkins says.
“Instead of locking people up in jail for minor violations, we could funnel resources into stopping the cycle and provide a fighting chance for them to become contributing members of our communities.”
In November, he visited U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, R-Fla. (pictured above with Jenkins, who is second from the right) and other lawmakers with Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin, Browns quarterback Josh McCown and Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin. During multiple visits to the Capitol, Jenkins has met with House Speaker Ryan, R-Wis., U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and others to talk about legislation that could reduce the economic impact of mass incarceration.
“We were advocating for measures like the Clean Slate Act in Pennsylvania, which would expunge the record for a low-level offender after a period of 10 years of having a clean record,” Jenkins says. “Former President Obama’s bill that changed the disparity of sentencing for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine was not made retroactive, so you still have men and women coming in and out of prison. That’s something we focused on. Most of the lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, agreed with what we were saying.”
Jenkins is optimistic that lawmakers can unite on reforming laws that have negatively affected minority communities, and he is determined to play an important role in keeping the dialogue flowing. He knows the road ahead will not be easy, but he is fully committed to the work he began about a year ago.
“I can impact those who’ve never come in contact with the criminal justice system, who know nothing about how it disproportionately affects certain people,” Jenkins says. “There is an opportunity to teach, to inspire and to raise that level of awareness.”
Jenkins’ philanthropy and advocacy were recognized by his peers earlier this year, when he was awarded the NFL Players Association Byron Whizzer White Award, given to the player who is just as dedicated off the field as he is on through community service in their team cities and hometowns. Jenkins donated the prize’s $100,000 for-charity purse to his foundation.
How Malcolm Jenkins pays forward
One of the lessons Malcolm Jenkins learned early on as an Ohio State student-athlete is that giving back to the community is an essential part of being a Buckeye.
“[Former Buckeye football coach Jim] Tressel was more of a life coach than a football coach,” Jenkins says. “If you look around Columbus, a lot of the guys who played under Tressel are still entrenched in the community, like Roy Hall, Antonio Smith, Beanie Wells and Jay Richardson.”
The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation helps families and youth in underserved communities. In May, the foundation co-hosted Get Ready Fest, which provided 25-pound boxes of food to each of 1,200 families and invited community members to access health screenings, educational and social services and information about job training. Jenkins wants Get Ready Fest, a touring event, to stop in Columbus every year.
Ohio State students are among the volunteers. “From our work with Student Life, students have shown up every year for us in great numbers,” Jenkins says. “We hope to grow and work with them as we assist Columbus’ impoverished communities.
“My foundation is in four different states right now — Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio — and Columbus is the only place where we don’t have a yearly program,” Jenkins says. “We want something that is going to stay here, and we envision moving in the direction of financial literacy and teaching families about bank accounts, checking and budgeting.”
Members of Ohio State’s chapter of Omega Psi Phi, the fraternity Jenkins pledged as a student, volunteered at Get Ready Fest. Chapter president Samuel Fields admires Jenkins’ example of community service.
“It’s the little things Malcolm does, like handing out canned goods and greeting people, that make a difference,” Fields says. “Although he’s a famous football player, he has remained humble, and this motivates me to give back more.”
What: The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation’s annual fundraiser
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16 (6:30 p.m. VIP)
Where: Union Trust, 717 Chestnut St., Philadelphia