Michele Lamons-Raiford, an American Sign Language teacher at Pinole Valley High, was named as one of five winners of the Dr. Harry Edwards “Follow Your Bliss” grant award, which was created by the 49ers Foundation.
The grant program was created in 2017 to recognize full-time Bay Area educators “who exemplify a commitment to their students, families and communities to lead the future generation with purpose, passion, dedication and love,” according to the 49ers Foundation.
Even after 19 years as a high school teacher, Lamons-Raiford remains highly active in the lives of her students. Previous to teaching ASL, she taught English at all levels, from remedial to Advanced Placement courses, and has been an Adjunct English Instructor at Solano Community College for the past 14 years.
“At Pinole, Michele is also the co-sponsor of the African American Student Union, sponsor of Indian Pakistani Student Union, co-sponsor of the New Teacher Mentor Program, and coach for the Speech and Debate Team,” according to the 49ers Foundation.
Born, raised and still residing in Vallejo, she’s also mother to a child with special needs and manages to find time to play guitar at the church she’s attended for three decades.
“I strongly believe in giving back what was afforded to you,” Lamons-Raiford said in a statement. “I wanted to be not only a mentor, but a person that a student would say played a significant role in their life. I want to help them experience that epiphany wherein they finally decided what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives.”
Fellow 2021 winners of the Dr. Harry Edwards “Follow Your Bliss” award include Emmanuel Steward, principal at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy Elementary School in San Francisco; Cory Jong, 6th Grade teacher at Urban Promise Academy in East Oakland; Binh Dao, 3rd-4th Grade Teacher at Longwood Elementary in Hayward; and Brittney-Lynn Filimoehala-Egan, unit director of the Mid-Peninsula Boys & Girls Club in Millbrae.
Winners receive a $5,000 stipend for in-classroom materials and resources for the next academic year, along with mentorship from the award’s namesake, Dr. Edwards, and formal recognition at an event at Levi’s Stadium with family and colleagues.
The honorees will be celebrated virtually at 4:30 p.m., June 1 (Click here to RSVP).
In 1986, Dr. Edwards was the lead organizer behind the Olympic Project for Human Rights. The movement led to Olympic athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith from San Jose State raising their fist in Black Power salute when they received medals in the Mexico Games. The same year he also began working with the 49ers to develop programming and counseling methods for the organization.
Dr. Edwards “worked closely with head coach Bill Walsh to develop the Minority Coaches’ Internship program, which was later adopted by the NFL in 1992 and still exists today as the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship,” the 49ers Foundation said.
A St. Louis native, Dr. Edwards attended San Jose State on an athletic scholarship before earning fellowships to Cornell University, where he completed a masters and Ph.D. in sociology.
“Dr. Edwards’ work in the diversity and inclusion space has made him a leading authority on matters where race, sport, and society intersect, and he is considered a pioneering scholar in the founding of the sociology of sport as an academic discipline,” the Foundation said.