Christian Kirksey and Seth DeValve headlined group of players who visited the center Tuesday.
During a visit to Bloom Bakery today, Browns players – TE Seth DeValve, LB Christian Kirksey, DL Brian Price and OL Earl Watford – presented Towards Employment $75,000 as part of their commitment to social unity and equality initiatives. The grant is comprised of personal donations made by Browns players, as well as contributions from the team through the NFL's matching club grant program focused on supporting social justice causes.
"When you are in line with a lot of guys in the league that are trying to do special things in the community and trying to do things to better people, and when you have the NFL and teams behind you matching that effort, we want to be all hands in," said Kirksey. "We have a power and we have a responsibility to help those in need and help get things corrected with social injustices. It is important to us as players on the team, but it is as important to us as citizens, as well, to just be that voice and be those leaders."
"It is incredible, and it is a good day," said DeValve. "The places that will be receiving donations from the Cleveland Browns are going to be able to do a lot with it, and that is what is most exciting about it. It is a substantial amount of money going to places that are doing really good work in criminal justice reform and helping people get back on their feet. I am excited to see what types of improvements they are going to be able to make. It is going to be able to impact a lot of people."
Towards Employment is one of multiple local community-focused groups selected by Browns players to receive support through the NFL club matching program. The Browns will ultimately announce additional donations from players and the team that will impact other organizations that are focused on social unity and equality efforts in the community.
"Towards Employment is a model organization," said DeValve. "They are run really well. They are spearheading the issue of criminal justice reform from two sides. They are going at it from a legislative angle in terms of trying to change laws in order to make it easier for people with criminal history to get a job. On top of that, they are working with people who have recently been released from prison and are training them and helping them get job placement. They are helping them develop skills that are going to help them be great contributors to society – skills that maybe nobody helped these people learn beforehand. They are impacting a lot of people. We were able to visit and meet the people that are being impacted directly and hear their stories. We were very excited to be able to give them this help."
"What Towards Employment is doing is awesome," Kirksey added. "They are giving people second chances. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody does things in their life that they regret, but that does not mean that is the end of the road for them. We just respect and honor what they are doing with the people who are trying to get back on their feet, people that are trying to re-establish themselves as people who can do things right. I was just simply amazed by the work that they do, how important it is to them and what it means to them as an organization and as a group. We tip our hats to them. We want to make sure that we are behind them 100 percent. We really enjoyed being a part of that visit and to speak to people in that particular group in that setting to hear the stories and really see how bright those people are, and even though they have made mistakes, life is all about second chances. The Towards Employment program is doing exactly that."
In September, multiple Browns players, including DeValve, Kirksey, Watford, K Greg Joseph and WR Derrick Willies, visited Towards Employment for a roundtable discussion with individuals participating in the group's reentry program and workshops. A NFL Network feature of the visit, as well as Steve Wyche's interviews with DeValve and Kirksey, is [available on NFL.com](available on NFL.com).
During the past two years, Dee and Jimmy Haslam and a core team of Browns executives have met regularly with players to discuss and coordinate community engagement opportunities with organizations and in areas supporting social equality where players wish to make an impact. Through those discussions, Browns players identified wanting to support police-community relations, including through local Neighborhood Equality & Unity Summit discussions and collaborative visits to Cleveland Recreation Centers; addressing recidivism and creating job opportunities; and providing educational resources to students in need.
In March, NFL owners approved team-based matching funds, whereby NFL clubs would match contributions, up to $250,000 annually, from current and former players to support community improvement, social justice and law enforcement relationships. This funding comes in addition to many NFL teams' ongoing financial support of local social justice initiatives.
Dee Haslam is also a member of the NFL's player-owner social justice committee, established in December 2017 with the focus of supporting programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity, with a priority on supporting improvements in education and economic development, community and police relations and the criminal justice system. It works directly with league staff to help identify future initiatives that have both broad support and a potential for high impact, and make financial recommendations accordingly.
For more information on Towards Employment, including its operation of Bloom Bakery, visit http://towardsemployment.org.