Dressed sharply in a vest, tie and dress slacks, Greg Jennings looked more gubernatorial than athletic when he walked into the cozy confines of the Lake Valley Camp building at 24th and Cherry Streets.
Addressing a room full of students, that was exactly the point. Forget the Green Bay Packers. Forget the number 85.
“I’m just Greg,” he said.
Greg was there, along with members of the Lake Valley Camp, the AFS-USA’s Faces of America initiative and the Milwaukee-based Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company to introduce a program that will award two full scholarships to members of the Lake Valley Camp’s Leadership Trainee program to study in Ghana, Africa (home of the Omanhene chocolate production facility) and a second location suggested by the AFS-USA.
Jennings and his self-titled foundation wanted to get involved in such a unique scholarship program to help children look, and learn, beyond their immediate surroundings.
“That’s huge because a lot of these kids are coming from a background, a home and an environment where they think what they see is all that that is afforded to them,” he said. “This gives them an opportunity to think outside the box and to actually put themselves outside that box.”
The partnership with the Greg Jennings Foundation was an unexpected one for Omanhene founder and president Steve Wallace. He had traveled to Ghana in high school through AFS-USA and says the experience changed his life. He was looking for a way to give that experience to other young people and happened to meet Jennings and his wife, Nicole, who were also searching for a way to get young people to think outside of their own environment.
Lake Valley Camp, which counts 500 students ages 7 to 18 who lived in Milwaukee’s underserved communities, was a perfect partner for the Greg Jennings Foundation and Omanhene’s plan for the scholarship.
“When we were introduced to each other, it made sense,” Wallace said of the group. “There is a global sensibility that is so critical to being successful in the 21st century and those that have it succeed and those that don’t will be at a disadvantage.
“It came together surprisingly fast. Very fortuitous. It felt like all of a sudden all of the right people were in the room.”
Scholarship recipients will be picked from this program, and the selection criteria includes being willing to engage a foreign culture and living abroad and empathy for others. Academic performance and a prior demonstration of community leadership will be equally weighed. A personal interview is also part of the process.
“I’m excited to be a part of what’s taking place here today and in the future,” Jennings said. “What we’re trying to do is give kids an opportunity to think outside the box and to experience another culture and put themselves in a position to where they can grow even more by going somewhere they would probably never think they could make it.”
Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Jennings made an appearance at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Downtown Milwaukee to speak to 4,000 students about Operation MOVE, part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. Jennings addressed the kids to emphasize the importance of exercise and nutrition.
For Jennings, connecting with the youth of Milwaukee has always been a focus of his since arriving in Green Bay in 2006.
“It’s very important,” he said. “Obviously it’s the largest city in Wisconsin and it’s a great, great place to start when you’re trying to impact a culture, a group of kids and young people that are going to take over our world. With that being said, I think for me, being a player, being visible, having the platform that I have, I think it’s great for us people – not just myself because I’m a player, but people of status, people of power, people that hold certain ranks and positions – to be touchable. Let the kids see how we experienced our success and how we got there.
“And that being an African-American male, it’s doable. You can achieve your life-long goals. They’re not far-fetched. They’re not out of reach and there are people outside of your current household that are willing to step up to the plate and assist you into achieving those goals.”