Browns coach Hue Jackson and his wife, Michelle, wanted to find their niche in Cleveland and, specifically, a way to serve Northeast Ohio off the football field.
So on Thursday night, the Jacksons launched the Hue Jackson Foundation, which will combat human trafficking and give a voice to its victims.
"It's something that me and Michelle talked about at length of what direction to go in," Hue Jackson said at the team's Berea headquarters, "and this is where it led our hearts."
Human trafficking is defined as a modern-day slavery involving the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Human trafficking cases in Ohio are some of the highest in the nation, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource center in Washington, D.C, and finding appropriate, emergency and transitional housing that protects women from their traffickers often poses a significant challenge. The center estimates there are less than 100 beds available nationally for an estimated annual 100,000 identified traffic victims.
As such, the Hue Jackson Foundation will partner with the Salvation Army of Greater Cleveland to establish the Hue Jackson Survivors of Human Trafficking Residence, which will offer a safe and nurturing environment for adult women in need. The center will also include shared office space for law enforcement, healthcare and social service professionals, including the Renee Jones Empowerment Center.
"I think people just think it happens and then you start over. That's not what happens in this situation," Hue Jackson said.
"I think the lasting effects that happen to these young people — or even older people — they need help. And I think to be able to bridge that gap and help in so many different areas — it's not just physical, it's the mental, it takes on so many different avenues — I think it's very important to lend that kind of assistance."
The DHS estimates human trafficking generates billions of dollars each year, second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime. Human trafficking is also considered a hidden crime because its victims are often limited from seeking help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers, and fear of law enforcement.
"As parents, I think we all know these issues are out there and we hear about it everywhere and they affect everybody somehow, someway and we're no different," Michelle Jackson said. "As parents of three girls, this touches us."
"There's elements of this that we've seen firsthand," Hue Jackson added, "a lot of different areas in this realm that were talking about that we've witnessed."
Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, who spoke to the roughly 125 guests gathered in Berea, described the Hue Jackson Foundation's impact as an "invaluable resource" toward "providing awareness and prevention to help protect our children and loved ones from falling victim to this heinous crime."
Thursday night marks the first foundation established in the Jackson's name. Hue Jackson cited Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam as inspirational figures in their desire to effect major change in Northeast Ohio.
"We want to embed ourselves in the community here," he said. 'It's not just about being a football coach -- it's bigger than that."