As the Browns take time to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday, it's important to look back at what the franchise has done to inspire change when it comes to social justice and creating a more equal country for Black Americans. The organization has held a long-standing commitment to diversity, and those efforts have been highlighted in multiple initiatives and activities in the last several years.
With efforts in the Cleveland 3-Team Alliance, Be The Solution Initiative, First And Ten and core themes of Browns Give Back, the Browns have been leaders in Northeast Ohio in driving change for a more equal country, but — as the messages and importance of the often-overlooked Juneteenth holiday highlight — the work is not finished.
"We're humbly working toward making the nation better collectively," Browns Vice President of Community Relations Jenner Tekancic said. "We're just a small part of the bigger picture, and what we see is an opportunity to use our voice and our platform to help make positive change because everyone deserves to be treated equally."
Here are some of the recent ways the Browns have striven to be difference-makers in pushing social justice:
Downtown Cleveland Alliance Juneteenth Freedom Fest - The Browns sponsored the biggest Juneteenth event taking place in Cleveland this weekend in the Freedom Fest, which took place downtown Saturday for its second annual celebration. Musical performances, art demonstrations, fireworks and other festivities were a part of the celebration, and a vendor village spotlighted several Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. The Browns — as well as Cavaliers and Guardians as part of the CL3 Alliance — were on-site with activation tents with content and information about what the three-team alliance is hoping to achieve in Cleveland.
Be The Solution - Established by Executive VP of Football Ops and GM Andrew Berry in 2020 after the social unrest that occurred following the death of George Floyd, the Be The Solution campaign has been a leading driver in many of the Browns' social justice initiatives. The campaign initially led to Browns employees raising over $185,000 for 14 different charities, and the impact from the campaign — which inspired many of the other initiatives and activities below — is still very much being created as the Browns continue to find ways to push toward equality and social justice reform.
Conversations for Change - For the last two years, the Browns and CL3 Alliance have hosted multiple discussions involving the Cleveland Police Department, local youth and community leaders to create meaningful dialogue about how to bring law enforcement and the Greater Cleveland community closer together. The conversations are supposed to dig into uncomfortable topics but allow participants to share their perspectives to consider solutions and find progress.
Emphasis on Voting - The Browns have continued to encourage people to register and commit to voting during election cycles to ensure results adequately express the needs and desires of the community. Ahead of the 2020 election, the team partnered with “I am a voter.” to promote that message.
EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute - Created by Brandon Chrostowski, the EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute has created opportunities for numerous formerly incarcerated men and women to build the foundation in the hospitality industry and provide a support network for re-entry. The business started in 2007 and has since expanded in 2016 to include a Life Skills Center for living, working and playing. The Browns have given annual donations to EDWINS and rewarded Chrostowski with Super Bowl tickets last February for the lives he's changed with the restaurant.
Cleveland Huddle - During the month of February for the last two years, the Browns have spotlighted and assisted multiple Black-owned restaurants providing food relief to hundreds of individuals in need.
Core Community Programming - Through the "Stay in the Game! Keep Learning Everyday" and Youth Football campaigns, the Browns have consistently been promoting equity and finding ways to increase equal opportunities, particularly in areas of low income. Both campaigns have been highlighted by the installation of 13 synthetic turf fields at high schools across the state that will provide athletic programs and communities a safe and easily maintainable space for activities. The campaigns are also hammering away at reducing chronic student absenteeism, the primary theme of the "Stay in the Game!" initiative, and finding ways to encourage and keep students in class every day.
Diversity Fellowships and Scholarships - The Browns have established multiple fellowships on both the football operations and business side of the organization to ensure a diverse group of coaches and employees can attain valuable experience and carve future roles in the NFL and sports landscape.
Ashton Grant, the first recipient of the team's Bill Willis Coaching Fellowship, earned a full-time role with the Browns as an offensive quality control coach in 2022 after two years as a fellow. Israel Woolfork was named the second recipient of the fellowship and will work closely with the quarterback position in his role. He was also previously with the Browns as part of the Bill Walsh fellowship, a leaguewide program designed to give experience to a diverse group of aspiring NFL coaches each offseason.
The Browns also welcome new fellows for the business side each year as part of the Haslam Sports Group Fellowship. The program started last year and included four diverse fellows who spent time in various departments with both the Browns and Columbus Crew.
To honor Marion Motley, who was one of the first four players to re-integrate professional football in 1946, the Browns also give away an annual scholarship.
Motley and Bill Willis, who was also one of the first four Black players to re-integrate the game, were each recognized in the Browns' Hall of Fame visit Wednesday with a special presentation.