For the second year in a row, Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons was named the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, largely for his volunteer efforts at the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club in Northeast Denver.
Simmons originally planned a single virtual meeting, but was quickly drawn into meaningful conversations with Club members about racial discrimination, social justice and steps everyone can take to build a more equitable world.
“It was cool to sit there and hear some of the things the kids at the Boys & Girls Club were saying,” Simmons said. “It only took 20 minutes for me to be like, ‘I’m going to ask them if I can keep coming.’”
And keep coming he did. Although Simmons was not selected as the NFL’s Man of the Year, he has stayed involved at the Club, proving the award was never his motivation.
“Justin Simmons hears us out,” explained Club teen RayRay. “He wants to listen and hear what we have to say. He showed us that we need to use our voice because our voice is the most powerful thing we have.”
Simmons’ efforts have been part of RISE, a national organization that empowers athletes and sports leaders to help communities overcome racism and prejudice while advocating for diversity and inclusion.
Simmons inspired the Club to start their own dialogue with local law enforcement, so Club teens can share their perspectives about policing and discrimination in their community. Club members have also planned a March for Peace in the Montbello neighborhood this April.
“If there’s going to be change, why can’t it start with us?” asked Club member Nashara. “Seeing how the Broncos players and Justin Simmons were able to speak up gave us a boost to share our stories and take action.”
“This is how we build our communities,” Simmons said. “Investing into our youth and letting them pave the way forward – for the next generation.”