The Browns on Saturday added Jim Brown's name to their 2022 Inspire Change Changemaker Award during their game against the Ravens and honored the three individuals from Northeast Ohio who earned the award for their work in the community.
The award will now be called the "Inspire Change Jim Brown Changemaker Award" and be honored after Brown, who was a civil leader during and beyond his playing days with the Browns. His civil contributions included founding the Black Economic Union, organized to help and guide black entrepreneurs, and Amer-I-Can, an organization that helps gang members and other at-risk youths "meet their academic potential, conform their behavior to acceptable society standards, and improve the quality of their lives by equipping them with the critical life management skills to confidently and successfully contribute to society."
Brown also organized the Cleveland Summit in 1967, when several prominent Black athletes gathered inside the Black Economic Union's Cleveland offices to interview boxer Muhammad Ali and decide whether to support his stand against being inducted into the U.S. Military in the midst of the Vietnam War. Former Brown John Wooten, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bobby Mitchell were among those in attendance.
Ultimately, the group decided to support Ali, and the meeting has been remembered as an important moment in sports and civil rights history.
"Jim was one of the first people we met when we came to Cleveland, and he set the tone for talking to us about being involved in the community, how we can give back and how important sports is and how it can be a great unifier in our country," Dee Haslam said. "He spent his life working for Amer-I-Can and in neighborhoods to really do that — to raise young people up and inspire them to do something special."
"Jim was a real forerunner in terms of athletes being involved outside the sport to an effect I can't remember any other prominent athlete of that time who was as outfront as Jim," Jimmy Haslam said. "I believe he organized the famed Cleveland Summit here in 1967, which originally evolved around Muhammad Ali, but in Jim's wisdom, it expanded to how we empower economic advancements, economic development and opportunities for people of all backgrounds and all races.
"We can think of no one more deserving and no one more honorable to deserve this award more than Jim Brown."
The Browns nominated Kahari Hicks, Mac Stephens and Damion Creel for the 2022 Inspire Change Jim Brown Changemaker Award for their work in establishing the Build the Bridge program.
All three individuals are local high school football coaches, and Creel is the president of the African American Football Coaches Association (AAFCA). Build the Bridge, founded in 2020, strives to create a coalition of coaches, players, parents, administration and community members to foster the success of student-athletes through social-emotional, educational, and athletic advancement. The program creates opportunities for all team members to build relationships and mutual respect between diverse communities, regardless of their race, class or creed. The program works closely with the AAFCA, which aims to empower, develop and unify coaches, student-athletes and communities regardless of race, class or creed.
The three coaches decided change was needed, and conversations with their athletes were necessary following the social response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Cleveland Heights coaches Hick and Stephens and Beachwood coach Creel came together to encourage their athletes to participate in conversations aimed at "building the bridge" between schools that otherwise would not engage with each other. Once two schools are matched through Build the Bridge, they plan an event focused on personal connections by conducting a collaborative discussion on social justice and race relations, competing with one another on the field or in the weight room and sharing a meal to complete the day. Following the meetings, coaches and athletes are encouraged to remain in regular contact throughout the year to spark additional dialogue and strengthen team bonds.
"Bridges connect people, and this initiative seeks to bring together coaches and players from predominantly black teams with predominantly white teams to have those uncomfortable conversations concerning race and social injustice," Creel said. "The Browns have supported several Build the Bridge events, including a high school showcase this past year at FirstEnergy Stadium and a chalk talk in 2021 where Olmsted Falls and Cleveland Heights football teams painted a 'legacy bench' that was then placed in their locker room. Browns players have also been supportive of this cause, including joining Zoom calls in support of the program and even representing Build the Bridge for My Cause, My Cleats. All funds raised by these events go directly back to the kids in the form of scholarships."