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Cleveland Browns


Cleveland Browns Nominees: Kahari Hicks, Mac Stephens and Damion Creel

The Cleveland Browns are proud to nominate Kahari Hicks, Mac Stephens and Damion Creel for the 2022 Inspire Change Changemaker Award for their work in establishing the Build the Bridge program. All three individuals are local high school football coaches, and Coach Creel is the president of the African American Football Coaches Association (AAFCA). Build the Bridge, founded in 2020, strives to create a coalition of coaches, players, parents, administration and community members to foster the success of student-athletes through social-emotional, educational, and athletic advancement. The program creates opportunities for all team members to build relationships and mutual respect between diverse communities, regardless of their race, class or creed. The program works closely with the AAFCA, which aims to empower, develop and unify coaches, student-athletes and communities regardless of race, class or creed.

The three coaches decided change was needed, and conversations with their athletes were necessary following the social response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Cleveland Heights coaches Hick and Stephens and Beachwood coach Creel came together to encourage their athletes to participate in conversations aimed at "building the bridge" between schools that otherwise would not engage with each other. Once two schools are matched through Build the Bridge, they plan an event focused on personal connections by conducting a collaborative discussion on social justice and race relations, competing with one another on the field or in the weight room and sharing a meal to complete the day. Following the meetings, coaches and athletes are encouraged to remain in regular contact throughout the year to spark additional dialogue and strengthen team bonds.

"Bridges connect people, and this initiative seeks to bring together coaches and players from predominantly black teams with predominantly white teams to have those uncomfortable conversations concerning race and social injustice," said Coach Damion Creel. The Browns have supported several Build the Bridge events, including a high school showcase this past year at FirstEnergy Stadium and a chalk talk in 2021 where Olmsted Falls and Cleveland Heights football teams painted a "legacy bench" that was then placed in their locker room. Browns players have also been supportive of this cause, including joining Zoom calls in support of the program and even representing Build the Bridge for My Cause, My Cleats. All funds raised by these events go directly back to the kids in the form of scholarships.

The Cleveland Browns are honored to work with Coach Hicks, Coach Stephens, and Coach Creel and assist them in their work of growing Build the Bridge.