By Rebecca Shankman
I have been to two Cleveland Browns football games in my life. The first, the Browns beat the New England Patriots; this was a surprise. The second, the entire stadium cheered as a video of the “team” I was going to spend the summer working with (Towards Employment) was shown on the screen with the announcement that the Browns had donated $75,000 to the organization. Since then, Towards Employment has been working with Browns’ players, administration, and stakeholders – to help them achieve their goal of using their reach and place in the community to do good.
When the Browns first met with the Towards Employment staff, they were greeted with the numbers. That 1 out of every 5 Ohioans has a criminal or arrest record. That 31% of Clevelanders between the ages of 25 and 64 are not active participants in the labor force1. That approximately 34.5% of people in Ohio jails are awaiting trials for crimes they haven’t, and potentially will never be, found guilty of.
In that first late 2018 meeting, Towards Employment asked the Browns players to keep an eye out for legislation coming to Ohio soon. Those first discussions focused on the Ban the Box movement, Bail Reform, and addressing collateral sanctions in state law. The first way to get involved, we encouraged players, was to pick an issue they were passionate about, do research on their own, and mobilize public support – use their status and power to inspire change. The second meeting was held at Bloom Bakery…..
The third time we met with the Browns, in May 2019 was a bit different. We were part of a hands-on experience coordinated by the Players Coalition, with local support from Towards Employment. Not only were the Browns representatives presented with facts, but they also had a chance to see the real world at work. For a day, the Browns toured a courtroom and a jail in Cleveland. They watched as bail was set and people were formally charged; they heard stories from those incarcerated in the facility, some of whom were participating in Towards Employment programming. They began to feel, as well as understand, the predicament of those in the criminal justice system.
To me, the Towards Employment and Browns partnership is about more than just education. It’s about creating change by inspiring those in power to take a stand. The Browns came to us eager to learn about the system and its impact on individuals who come through it. With a better understanding of how the system works, we were then able to shed some light on how they could use their platform to make a difference. If the education and exposure provided to these players is able to subsequently inspire, frustrate, or lead to action from anyone in their fan base, then this partnership has done its job. With the Browns as partners and ambassadors of our mission, we are able to inspire others and continue our fight to connect people to careers, change lives, advance businesses, and strengthen our community.
Oh, and the Browns won that second game too.