CANTON — The extraordinary life of Jim Brown, a football legend, actor, and activist, was rightfully celebrated Thursday at "The Life and Legacy of Jim Brown" at Umstattd Performing Arts Hall.
The event host was Mike Tirico, known for his role as the play-by-play announcer on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Singer Johnny Gill performed the classic song "A Change Is Gonna Come," originally sung by Sam Cooke.
Monique Brown, the spouse of Jim Brown, organized the celebration of life, which featured five guest speakers, namely Jimmy Haslam, Rudolph "Rock" Johnson, Ray Lewis, Bob Arum, and John Wooten. Monique concluded the event by delivering a heartfelt speech expressing gratitude to her late husband for the invaluable wisdom he imparted to her.
"Jim and I were bonded from our love of human beings and humanity," Monique Brown said. "From the very beginning, we were very clear that was our life mission. Our life mission was to be of service. just being by his side, having him be a champion in my life, and learning so much from him."
The ceremony began with a speech from Haslam, the managing and principal partner of Haslam Sports Group who emphasized that Brown's contributions extended beyond football and praised him as a trailblazer in the social justice movement.
"Jim was more than a football player," Haslam said. "The last year he played football was 1965. He transcendent football. Jim then got into the entertainment business as an actor. Then Jim was into social justice before there was a social justice if you think about it."
Brown epitomized the forceful influence of the word "no." He demonstrated this power when he refused to abandon Johnson, who faced a 15-year sentence after being arrested at 11 years old.
"Jim saved my life," Johnson said. "I call him Dad because I never had a father. Jim never gave up on me and kept me calm-headed when my daughter was shot in the face. I wanted revenge, but Jim stopped me and said we are not going to ruin our lives."
As a child, Johnson sincerely appreciated Brown's role as his mentor. He expressed that Brown was consistently present for him.
Wooten, who used to play with Brown, recently made a significant announcement to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of the football community.
"Jim told me and others Ray Lewis is to be the next leader of athletes, Wooten said."
Lewis and Brown first met in 2001 during the Super Bowl game where the Ravens played against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa. Since then, Brown watched Lewis and grew fond of him.
"Jim came to me and said he was studying me for 12 years," Lewis said. "Jim had a vision. The good book says without a vision, thy people shall perish. Jim had a vision that every man is equal regardless of their skin color, regardless of their economics, and regardless of where he came from.
"Jim Brown walked that."