GREEN BAY – In the aftermath of Sunday's emotional 24-23 victory over the Chicago Bears, several Packers players paused to present $50,000 donations to five Wisconsin organizations Tuesday morning, as part of their community action initiative to support social justice.
The donations are a component of the ongoing effort by NFL players and clubs to improve their communities through programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity, whether through education and economic advancement, criminal justice reform or improving police-community relations.
The five organizations – CASA Brown County, Ha Ha's HERO Foundation, Legal Action of Wisconsin, Sherman Phoenix and Young Life of Green Bay – were selected by the players, utilizing funds sourced through the NFL and the Packers, aimed toward supporting programming that addresses inequality and opportunity in the community.
"We're pleased to be presenting today five $50,000 donations to five different organizations in Wisconsin that are doing some incredible things in the community," Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said. "Players around the league are doing great things and they're making a big difference in different areas including education, economical advancement, criminal justice reform and also improving police-community relations."
The initiative holds significant meaning for Packers tight end Lance Kendricks, who partnered with the Sherman Phoenix Project based in his hometown of Milwaukee.
The organization, headed by JoAnne and Maanaan Sabir, aims to foster change by transforming the eastern gateway to the Sherman Park neighborhood into a safe, welcoming space that supports small businesses-of-color offering diverse foods, wellness services and cultural activities.
The Sabirs, who own and operate The Juice Kitchen in Milwaukee, felt called to action to restore a BMO Harris bank building burned during an uprising in Sherman Park in August 2016 and "transform it into its highest point of possibilities" where all individuals in the community are welcome to convene.
The Phoenix will be renovated to host 27 entrepreneurs, offer a care program for police officers and neighbors in the area, a yoga meditation studio and feature seven different restaurants.
"I'd like to thank Mark Murphy and the Green Bay Packers for this opportunity to help out my home, my community," Kendricks said. "It hits close to home for me because I grew up eight minutes away (from Sherman Park). They are providing an opportunity for entrepreneurs of color to reach out to the community, and provide holistic health and wellness, and just uplift the people around the community."
Receiver Randall Cobb and center Corey Linsley spearheaded the donation to CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Brown County.
The nonprofit organization provides a voice for abused and neglected children in Brown and Marinette Counties who are under the legal protection of the court system. Their vision is for every child to feel safe and secure in their home and heart.
"They do great work here in town, working with kids who are going through the court system (who have) been abused and neglected," Cobb said. "(CASA is) doing great work with being an advocate for them to get them in a better situation and help them out."
Packers kicker Mason Crosby also was in attendance on behalf of Young Life Green Bay, a non-denominational Christian ministry that reaches out to middle school, high school and college-aged kids to provide opportunities for kids of all abilities and economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
"As adults and leaders in this community, they go into where the kids are and take action," Crosby said. "They meet the kids where they are and get involved in their cultural spaces, and the events they're a part of. They go to their athletic events to make sure they know they're supported by adults in this community.
"Everything we talk about today, it seems opportunity is a big thing. That's what we need for our kids to help them grow up."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was not in attendance due to a prior commitment, but was the impetus behind the donation to Legal Action of Wisconsin, a nonprofit law firm providing justice for low-income individuals who don't have the means to pay for legal services.
The fifth organization, Ha Ha's HERO Foundation, was founded last year by the Packers All-Pro safety. It strives to provide economically-challenged students in Title I Schools with a voice of motivation, empowerment and encouragement so they can achieve academic excellence, develop positive personal skills and make positive decisions to avoid high-risk behavior.
Mike Mu, who accepted the donation on behalf of Clinton-Dix, said his foundation plans to match the $50,000 donation through an upcoming benefit in Madison.
Ha Ha’s HERO Foundation, which stands for "Hope, Education, Resource, and Opportunity" is currently building headquarters in Milwaukee and Madison to provide children with books and literacy. According to Mu, Clinton-Dix is in talks with the Brown County Sherriff's Department in hopes of starting juvenile programs in the area.
The Packers organization has been active within the Green Bay community and surrounding areas through the years with its annual impact grants through the Packers Foundation and the Packers Give Back intuitive.
The organization also partnered with Head Coach Mike McCarthy to donate a combined $200,000 to the Green Bay Police Foundation in 2016 to help build and enhance relationships between police and the community.
The Social Justice Initiative, a joint endeavor of NFL players and teams to address racial inequality and social justice, represents the first venture of its kind among professional sports leagues, and includes a significant financial commitment. The program is already producing significant results, from the creation of a committee on social justice to the passage of state criminal justice reform laws in several states.
"I couldn't be more proud of all of them and I want to thank them for their work on this program, community action initiative," Murphy said. "They've really taken the initiative on this, head-on, to really determine how to have a big impact on the community and really make a difference in the lives of those who face obstacles to opportunity."