New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins lurked in the shadows of a Zoom graduation ceremony on Friday, going undetected until it was his turn to speak.
Fifty high school graduates and their families from the College Track program were listening to Jenkins’ mother, Gwendolyn Jenkins, give her remarks about her son’s namesake foundation and the longstanding relationship they’ve had with College Track — a college completion program that works with students from underserved communities from ninth grade through college graduation.
From 2012 through this year, the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation has awarded more than $150,000 in scholarships to New Orleans seniors participating in the College Track program.
Just as Gwendolyn announced that 70% of this year’s scholarship recipients would be first-generation college students, Malcolm popped into frame — surprising all the students who didn’t know he’d be the one presenting the names of this year’s Malcolm Jenkins Scholars.
“WOW,” one student wrote in the Zoom chat when Jenkins appeared on screen.
“Just wanted to jump in here and say Who Dat,” Jenkins said. He then briefly spoke about how he’s happy to be back with the Saints after a six-year stint in Philadelphia with the Eagles.
When Jenkins left New Orleans for Philadelphia, he didn’t want to stop his charitable work in the Crescent City, so now his foundation serves New Jersey (his home state), Ohio (where he went to college), Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
“Those are the places that mean the most to me,” Jenkins said. “So even though I wasn’t there in New Orleans, it’s very much still in my heart.”
Even though Jenkins lived in Philadelphia from 2014-19, he said he made it back to New Orleans for the typical in-person College Track ceremony once or twice.
“That’s been kind of the tough thing logistically, because I like to be very hands on,” Jenkins said after the ceremony.
Jenkins said he was grateful for the partners and board members of the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation who still reside in New Orleans and help with things such as making gift baskets to send to their students during finals week.
But this year is different for the matriculating participants in the program because of the coronavirus, and Jenkins wanted to make sure that his foundation held up its end of the bargain.
“In these situations … money is always an issue,” Jenkins said. “And when you add an event like this COVID-19 crisis, (money) becomes even more of an issue.”
The 20 students who received scholarships from Jenkins’ foundation will be attending 13 colleges such as Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Ferris State University in Michigan; Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania; Scripps College in California; Wake Forest in North Carolina; Tougaloo College in Mississippi; and Smith College in Massachusetts. In-state schools the scholarship recipients are attending include Tulane, Dillard, Loyola, Northwestern State, Tulane, Xavier and UL.
In addition to the scholarship winners, 16 seniors in the College Track program earned full-ride scholarships to several colleges around the country including Yale, Cornell, Columbia, Franklin & Marshall College, Smith College, Bryn Mawr College, Bard College, Scripps College, Wake Forest and Tulane.
“These high school kids have overcome so many different challenges and have really risen to the occasion,” Jenkins said. “Having had to miss out on all of the perks of the hard work that they’ve done. They don’t have prom, don’t have graduation.
“So we tried to figure out ways to acknowledge their effort, acknowledge their journey and encourage them to continue to seek our education.”