If you’ve never had a professional athlete personally invite you to an event to hang with him and some of his teammates, all while helping a great cause, then listen up as Baltimore Ravens strong safety, James Ihedigbo has a message for you regarding his 1 Annual Celebrity Cruise and Casino Charity Night, Monday, December 9th. The charity cruise at Spirit Cruises/Baltimore Inner Harbor, sets sail at 7:00pm and goes until about 10p.
Tickets for the event (in advance) are $75, which includes open bar, a dinner buffet and $500 casino play money with 100% of ticket proceeds going to the HOPE Africa Scholarship fund.
“What we (HOPE Africa) do is designed to give students of African descent the opportunity to pursue higher education and we do that through our funding process where 100% goes to those scholarships. Right now we have 12 students in colleges ranging from NYU, Arizona, Oregon, the list goes on,” Ihedigbo says of his charity, HOPE Africa.
“HOPE Africa comes from both my parents coming from Nigeria and having to work through many years of adversity to achieve their goals of earning their Ph.D.s. HOPE Africa creates a platform in a similar place, the opportunity so these kids don’t have to struggle as hard to make ends meat while going to school. We take the financial burden off of them so they can concentrate on their studies and their dreams,” he says.
The mission of HOPE Africa is to boost future young African leaders to achieve its goal, providing 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, as it says on their website.
This cruise event is the first of its kind for Ihedigbo and his charity, with a desire to do something locally in Baltimore where he plays with the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Baltimore Ravens. “We (HOPE Africa) have this big event we do during the NFL Draft weekend every year in New York, and we wanted to do something big in Baltimore. It’s awesome, we have great sponsors across the board, and a lot of people have already been buying tickets. All the big name Ravens will be in attendance as well, it’s definitely going to be a great and fun night,” he promises.
As for a list of Ravens players confirmed to be on board, there isn’t one yet, but Ihedigbo did throw out names like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Vonta Leach and a few others. It seems there will be about 20 Ravens players, past and current, that will be setting sail with fans in support of this great cause.
It’s no secret, playing in the NFL is one of the surest ways to jam-pack your schedule. Aside from practices, games and watching a ton of film in preparation for games, most players are actively involved in their own charitable endeavors, as well as supporting those of their teammates. It’s kind of an unwritten rule in the league, but one that doesn’t go unnoticed by philanthropists like Ihedigbo.
“It means a lot (to have their support) because you understand the effort and time we put into HOPE Africa and the busy schedules we all have. Having them come out and support (the cause) means a lot. It’s one thing for people to give monetary gifts, but the major thing is when people give their time because they have such a limited amount of it. When guys like Ray Rice and Vonta Leach say ‘I’ll be there and wouldn’t miss it for the world,’ that means a lot to me,” the strong safety says.
And it’s not just his teammates support that means so much to Ihedigbo, who has quickly found his home in Baltimore and among their fans. “That’s the thing I’ve grown to love about the Ravens fan base. They love their Ravens players. They support us and our efforts on the field, but they also give us major support on the things we do in the community. The outpouring I’ve seen on Twitter and their commitment to being there (his December 9th event), posting their receipt for buying tickets to the event and all that, fans really know the amount of work we put in off the field and on the field, and want to be a part of it all,” Ihedibgo says.
Although tickets have been selling rapidly, there’s plenty more room on board and Ihedibgo personally extends the invitation to each of you. “The more the merrier. We’re hoping for hundreds to come.”
Ihedigbo, who wears #32 for the Ravens, talks why he chose to wear that number in the NFL, attributing it to his college friend who is no longer in the league. “It’s pretty awesome, I had a good friend of mine, Matt Lawrence, who I played college football with at U Mass, and he was on the Ravens when I was on the Jets. He wore #32, and kind of had a career ending injury with his neck, not where he’s paralyzed, but he can’t play football anymore. When I came to the Ravens, I wore 32 in his honor,” Ihedigbo says of his buddy.
It’s not often you get to sit down and chat with a guy who’s had the chance to play in back-to-back Super Bowls, losing one with the New England Patriots, followed the very next year with a win with the Ravens.
“I’ve been on both sides of the coin – that’s rare that that happens. The agony of defeat after I lost that Super Bowl…honestly I didn’t want to look at SportsCenter, anything that had to do with football, I didn’t want to be a part of it for a good month and a half. You work so hard and so much goes into making it to a Super Bowl, so much effort, sacrifice, coming together as a team…to lose one is devastating. It’s kind of awesome to know that God had something better for me, leaving and going to another team.
“I was saying to one of my teammates in Week 7, I said ‘Wow we have what it takes to be a championship team.’ I could say that because I’ve seen it before, I know what it looks like. We continued to fight, scratch, fight our way to the playoffs, and then to win a Super Bowl, it’s the complete opposite, it’s the biggest joy you could ever have,” Ihedigbo says. “I actually heard from someone, the two greatest things a man can ever experience are winning a Super Bowl and the birth of their first child, that’s pretty awesome.”
But back to his main focus right now, at least off the field, Ihedibgo’s event. “It’s pretty simple, it’s going to be a great night – you get to cruise the inner harbor with your favorite players on the Ravens while supporting a great cause. What better night to spend the evening with Joe Flacco along with gambling, supporting a great cause, live music, it’s just going to be a great night,” he says.
For tickets, visit HopeAfricaUSA.org. All proceeds from the event go to support the scholarship fund of HOPE Africa USA, a non-profit 501c3 public charity organization founded by Ihedigbo. The cruise boards Monday, December 9th, at 7 p.m. at 561 Light St. Have fun, Charm City.
This series is part of The Blonde Side’s Blue 32 Birthday Series on Man Cave Daily – an attempt to interview as many current and former professional players of all sports, who wore the number 32 on their jersey.
Jayme Lamm is a freelance sports and travel writer based in Houston and is currently in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Follow her travels for sporting events and check her out on Twitter.