Sharing His Wealth
This feature originally appeared in the 2020 Fall edition of the Cal Sports Quarterly. The Cal Athletics flagship magazine features long-form sports journalism at its finest and provides in-depth coverage of the scholar-athlete experience in Berkeley. Printed copies are mailed four times a year to Bear Backers who give annually at the Bear Club level (currently $600 or more). For more information on how you can receive a printed version of the Cal Sports Quarterly at home, send an email to CalAthleticsFund@berkeley.edu or call (510) 642-2427.
Cal senior safety Elijah Hicks has been picking off quarterbacks his entire life, but he has something even more important to intercept now.
The Long Beach native and founder of the non-profit Intercept Poverty Foundation didn't have much money or food growing up. He remembers counting down until the first of the month when groceries would be replenished, and he recalls kids at school with nice sack lunches that had the best of everything.
"My mom told me not to beg, so I would just look at their lunch and say 'dang, I wish I had that,'" Hicks said. "But it built character and made me want to work hard."
Although Hicks faced poverty throughout his childhood, his parents – Tony Hicks and Shedra Rucker – were still very involved in the lives of Elijah and his 10 siblings.
"My vision of being a dad was the Brady Bunch," Tony said. "My dad wasn't around much for me and his dad wasn't around much for him, but you've got to break the cycle. I could make more money, but instead I was going to be there for my kids. You've got to spend a lot of time with them."
The elder Hicks spent much of his time coaching Elijah on the football field, where the younger Hicks was quickly becoming a top player who eventually found his way to prep powerhouse St. John Bosco. Elijah was eager to make a name for himself on the gridiron but got hurt early in his prep career. A dispute over who was responsible for the cost of surgery and mounting tuition payments that his family could no longer afford were making life stressful. Two-hour commutes each way on buses and trains through rough neighborhoods, and a nightly walk to his home on the east side of Long Beach – often while toting his football pads – weren't helping either.
Hicks was able to stick with the grueling schedule and stay enrolled at Bosco until the spring semester of his sophomore year when his family could no longer afford the payments. Around the same time, his family was evicted from its home in Long Beach, sending Elijah into the homes of two of his best friends, while Tony and several of his siblings briefly lived on the top floor of the furniture store where he worked.
Hicks quickly rebounded from the self-described low point of his life after transferring to La Mirada High School.
Although he still had a long commute, he blossomed into a first-team all-state selection as a senior after helping his squad win a state title in his junior campaign.
Hicks solved his commute problem when Tyler Cappon, one of Hicks' new teammates, found out how far he and friend Joshua Caldwell were traveling daily.
Cappon and has family invited the Long Beach duo into their family home near the school, and with the long commutes a thing of the past, Hicks had more time for both football and academics. He achieved a 4.0 GPA during his time at La Mirada and graduated early before becoming a mid-year enrollee at Cal in January of 2017.
"It takes a village to raise a child," Hicks said, referencing a phrase his dad uses often, while emphasizing that his parents continued to support him by coming to his games and visiting him on weekends. "It made me feel comfortable when I went somewhere and they showed me love. I knew I had people invested in me and that made me feel like I wanted do that for other people. If we want future generations to help this world do better, we've got to help them. We've got to invest in them."
Hicks, who was Cal's most recent Jonathan and Judy Hoff Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year this past year, is now using his platform to focus on changing the plight of those future generations. He has volunteered regularly at the food pantry in Cal's Basic Needs Center and is the founder of the non-profit with a really cool name and an even cooler vision "to empower low-income students to focus on school without worrying about financial needs."
When COVID-19 hit, Hicks knew that less fortunate families would be heavily affected. Through his foundation, he partnered with No Kid Hungry to start a campaign that raised over $60,000 to help provide food for families in need and helped land him a spot on the prestigious 2020 All-State AFCA Good Works Team.
He is believed to be the first NCAA student-athlete to use his name, image and likeness to raise funds for a COVID-19 cause, but for Hicks it seemed normal.
"Where I come from, even though we don't have a lot, we give a lot," Hicks said.
Hicks is now in the early stages of developing a program to provide an emergency relief fund for needy Cal students via Intercept Poverty, and he says that is just the beginning.
"Right now, while I'm still in school, I'm doing a lot of the work," Hicks said. "But once I get to the NFL and Intercept Poverty continues to grow, we're obviously going to have a lot of support. There's a process and these are baby steps, but it is a big priority."
"Elijah is always focused on how he can help people, especially ones that are less fortunate," former Cal defensive back Camryn Bynum said. "His foundation is just a fraction of what he is involved with when it comes to helping people. He is way more than just an athlete, and that's what I respect about him the most. He wants to set himself and the people around him up for success way longer than football can ever last."
Bynum isn't his only teammate that knows Hicks is looking to share the wealth.
"Elijah has always been a very giving person," defensive back Josh Drayden said. "Giving back is built into him. When he was growing up, he wasn't always in the best situations, but he wants it to be better for the people coming up behind him. He wants to use financial literacy to do that, so when they get to his position they can keep that cycle going. That's how you really affect your community. I'm excited to see not only how his football career turns out but how his foundation grows and continues to impact many lives."
Hicks is especially passionate about taking the message of financial literacy back to his hometown and beyond.
"Financial literacy is so important," Hicks said. "I've learned a lot in college, but these are conversations we need to have at home. I'm hoping to use my platform to help make it cool for people in my community to want to talk about and learn about finances. I want to help people become financially literate and let them know there are ways to get out of poverty, break the cycle and create generational wealth."
Tony knew that Elijah was special early on and takes credit for "laying the foundation," but he also heaps praise on Cal for helping his son take it to another level.
"Cal helped define who he is today," Tony said. "He has a real game plan, and the people at Cal have done a great job of helping him get to where he wants to go."