Over the past year, Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey has emerged as a force for good in the greater Cleveland community.
That mission continued as Kirksey and more than a dozen players — including Seth DeValve, Jamie Collins Sr., Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Kevin Zeitler — joined owner Jimmy Haslam, head coach Hue Jackson and scores of community members at the organization's first-ever Cleveland Browns Social Justice Summit on Wednesday afternoon.
The summit, which marks the team's third keystone event aimed at addressing social injustice and other major issues facing the country, served as a forum to educate new and returning players on opportunities to create positive social change and the team's commitment to supporting that cause.
"The thing I took away from it is a group of people trying to do the right thing, using their platform — myself as a player — being able to understand there's kids looking up to us, adults looking up to us and we can be a voice for a lot of people and effect change," Kirksey said.
Among those invited to speak at the summit included Browns legend and social activist Jim Brown, Cleveland chief of police Calvin Williams, Cuyahoga County executive Armond Budish, Ohio state senator John Eklund, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections director Gary Mohr and NFL Network reporter Steve Wyche. Each offered a different perspective on the work being done in the community and just how far there is to still go when it comes to addressing some of the nation's largest problems.
Topics broached included: education, social justice reform, criminal justice reform, recidivism, collaboration with law enforcement, legislation opportunities and more.
The gathering comes as the Browns continue to stress the team's ability to bring the community together, regardless of race, religion, gender or socioeconomic background.
"If we all work together as one, whether you're a police officer, whether you're part of administration, whether you're an athlete or an owner, we all have a platform and we all have a purpose of serving the community," Kirksey said. "I feel like this whole event is just the start for us, a lot of ideas, a lot of connections being made to help Cleveland."
Last fall, the Browns helped host an Neighborhood Equality and Unity Summit at Cleveland State, where players joined forces with police officers and local high school students to discuss community perceptions, police-neighborhood relationships and other dynamics that impact the community. Before that, Kirksey and Co. took part in a ride-along with Cleveland police officers, using the shift as an opportunity to better understand one another and broach difficult topics.
The hope is Wednesday's summit marks another step in that direction.
"I think that last year was just eye-opening," Kirksey said. "The Cleveland Browns aren't just a football organization ... I feel like now coming into this year, more and more people are on board.
"Being a part of an organization where (Dee and Jimmy) want to do right definitely speaks volumes. I'm just glad to be part of something special. I want to be a part of something bigger than football. I know that (they) care about my well-being as a person and also to win games on Sundays. It's something that's special to me."