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For Ihedigbo, Not Helping Haiti Is Not an Option


A fire burns brightly inside James Ihedigbo.

It was kindled, perhaps, when his father, Apollos, started a community college in Nigeria, his parents' native country. It was roaring when James began his own foundation, Hope Africa.

Then came Haiti and the earthquake.

"When it first happened, I was one of those people who said, 'Damn, this is terrible that this has happened. What can you possibly do with something like this?' " the Jets' hard-hitting safety and special-teamer told this afternoon. "I said I've got to do something. I've got to figure out some way to help. What better way than using the platform that I've been given as an NFL football player to do that?"

That's what Ihedigbo is planning to do. He will be in a group of about 20 people who will be leaving from the United States for Haiti on a mission of help and support from March 15-18.

So far the group includes at least two other Jets players, Leon Washington and David Clowney. It also will comprise two ER doctors from Houston and a number of nurses from Massachusetts, the state where he played his high school ball at Amherst Regional and his college ball at UMass.

"The final number hasn't been determined. The people from Yele [Wyclef Jean's foundation] are going with us," he said. "It's a good group effort. What we're looking to do is really do our part. A lot of what's happened is the effect of Jan. 12 when the earthquake took place. Then slowly, it's like where it's out of sight, out of mind. But people are still suffering and they're going to continue to suffer unless people here in the United States and other countries do something about it."

Fans who know James' backstory know his dad died unexpectedly on a trip to Nigeria when he was a high school senior. Apollos will be on this trip in spirit and his mother, Rose, will be in the traveling party.

"She brought to my attention that they're in great need of help and how can we pull together our resources and help them and continue to be a support for them that they're going to need for years to come?" he said. "We revamped the focus of my foundation. It's Hope Africa, yes, but at the same time it's 'Help Our People Excel,' and that's the world as a whole, whatever way we can help."

The help will take many forms in the short time "Dig's" group is in Haiti.

"And that's not even just in Port-au-Prince but into the rural parts where people are alive and suffering but need help now before they, God forbid, pass away. We want to really get our hands dirty. The country has its relief efforts, but we're teaming up with them to bring an educational aspect with us. If we can get notebooks, pens, pencils, solar-powered calculators.

"We'll be doing everything, handing out water, helping out kids, helping teach American football. We'll really do just what we can do to help, whatever that may be."

The NFL and its players have done their best to make sure this devastation doesn't slip out of sight and out of mind. Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Colts wideout Pierre Garcon talked of their Haitian roots and their plans to help during Super Bowl week. Lions DE Cliff Avril will also join the Ihedigbo group next month.

"There definitely is involvement across the league," Ihedigbo said. "This doesn't just affect the people in Haiti. It affects everybody, people here of Haitian descent, people who have friends who are Haitian, coworkers, teammates.

"We're using the platform we have as NFL players to project a voice, and it's a voice that's not once heard but that will continue to be heard. It's going to be something special."

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