San Francisco 49ers
bring Christmas to
children of SQ parents
On Dec. 19, the San Francisco 49ers organization brought Christmas cheer and gifts to San Quentin residents and their families while also tackling social justice issues.
“It’s a beautiful thing to have them around,” said Sergio Alvarez. He sat at a table with Niners safety Talanua Hufanga while they both watched his niece excitedly unwrap her Barbie doll. “I’m grateful of the Niners,” he said.
When the players entered the visiting room, little sports fans greeted them with high fives. Families, players and gifts filled the tables in the room. Resident Lee Smothers enjoyed the company of his wife, his two grandchildren and Niners linebacker Oren Burks. When asked what he thought the best part of the event was, Smothers’ ten-year-old grandson, Kalani, said:
“The best gift I ever had was to be here with my granddaddy.”
The Niners players donated $10,000 dollars to make the day special for 40 lucky prison residents. Stacy McCorkle and Michelle Beck, the team’s Senior Director of Community Relations and its Community Manager, arranged for the players to shop for and donate the gifts. San Quentin was a part of the annual million dollars the organization donates to charities.
“It’s the holiday season and we want to show the world that everyone matters,” said Beck.
Warden Ron Broomfield was in the building along with Captain Sam Robinson, Lieutenant G. Berry, Sergeant J. Graves, and other SQ staff members who made the wonderful day possible for prison residents.
“It was such an honor to host the San Francisco 49ers at San Quentin for a social justice discussion and Christmas celebration,” said Warden Broomfield. “Their generosity towards the children and families of those incarcerated was unmatched. Their willingness to take the time out of their incredible season demonstrates the amazing character of the players, coaches, chaplains and the organization as a whole. We are blessed to have the 49ers as part of the San Quentin community.”
Before the Bay Area’s football team got to the giveaway in the SQ visiting room, they addressed some questions on social justice issues from some excited fans in the chapel.
Earl Smith, longtime volunteer and 49ers chaplain, brought in the twin sisters— Jenna and Mara—of deceased owner Tony York to continue the legacy of their brother. York started the tradition of bringing the Niners in, along with Chaplain Smith, before he passed away.
“This means a lot to us. It feels like he could have done so much [if he were still alive]. We just wanted to continue his legacy for him,” said Mara.
Eleven actual players came into the prison, and their presence meant a lot to the residents.
“This is big to me,” said longtime Niners fan and veteran of the SQ All Maddens football team, Gary MacDonald. “I wish a lot of young people were here, because they [the Niners] give us something to look up to. Seeing them takes me back to my childhood. I remember when my mom bought me my first Niners hat. I been a fan ever since. I look forward to speaking to George Kittle and the new rookie QB Brock Purdy.”
Other lucky residents who made it to the exclusive event were hoping to see the Niners’ rising star Brock Purdy, too. But neither he nor the receiver George Kittle was at the event. However, fans were still pleased to see the other superstars. Prominent players showed up in Niners fashion.
Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair was the first to break the threshold of Chapel B, wearing a big smile and dancing to the intro of Bay Area rapper E-40’s Niners anthem, “Bang Bang Niner Gang,” which blared through the speakers.
Both sides of the aisle were lined with all of the residents clapping, cheering and shaking hands with the players.
Linemen Arik Armstead and Spencer Burford and defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight showed up, along with linebacker Oren Burks, kicker Robbie Gould, safety Talanoa Hufanga, quarterback Josh Johnson, linemen T.Y. McGill and Curtis Robinson and tight end Charlie Woerner.
Chaplain Smith moderated the event from the stage, which was lined with SQ residents.
Resident Jamal Harrison was the first to ask a question from the crowd.
“Is someone in the Niners’ organization using the platform you guys have to foster better relationships between the Black communities and the police?” he asked.
Chaplain Smith answered that the organization has connected with the Santa Clara County law enforcement on that issue. Harrison asked another important question about whether the Niners’ organization was doing anything to combat the issue of homelessness in the Bay Area.
That question ignited a flurry of raw responses from the players who all shared the same humbling sentiment on the topic.
Azeez Al-Shaair spoke about his foundation, Mobilize Love, which deals with homeless issues and provides resources for homeless community members.
“We are no different,” Al- Shaair said. “I been through a lot growing up but I had to make a conscious decision. It’s about making a conscious decision. You can have a speed boat, a raft or you can be swimming. What matters is the direction you are going.”
Sitting on the stage, Arik Armstead suggested that education can provide solutions to problems of social justice. “How can I use my platform to create change? It starts with the mind-set, being humble.” The big lineman gave an interesting stat. He said, “Prisons use third-grade reading scores to determine how much bed space they will need in prison. Education is the key.” He was nominee for Man of the Year three years in a row.
T.Y. McGill said that he had a reading problem growing up. He told personal stories about his life and how there was a lack of resources available to him when he was growing up. But he also shared about the importance of having a father and how instrumental having his father in his life was to him.
After the impactful Q&A session was over, the group took a tour around parts of the prison. They visited the historic dungeon and went inside the gloomy building. They were invited to visit the Prison Industry Authority (PIA) by CALPIA PIO Michile Kane. PIA is where the Last Mile Coding classes are held.
“This was eye-opening for me,” said Charlie Woerner. It was his first time ever being inside of a prison.
After seeing North Block cell living, the bunch traversed to the main visiting area where they sat and ate a nice meal with the families of the incarcerated, which meant a lot to resident Jaime Zambrano.
“This day is special to me. I was arrested the night before Christmas [last year] and it’s my first time seeing my kids since then,” Zambrano said. His mother and his two kids joined him at the event.
“San Quentin really appreciated the generosity the San Francisco 49ers organization shared with the population and their families. Creating those everlasting memories for the children during the Christmas holiday was priceless,” Public Information Officer Guim’Mara Berry said. “Their level of dedication in serving their community throughout the year is invaluable. The stories that the team shared during the symposium were impactful. We truly value their interest in the process of rehabilitation and their views on social justice within the department.”