Last summer, when the murder of George Floyd helped launch nation-wide protests as well as a needed reckoning about racism in America, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner got in touch with Nikkita Oliver, the executive director of Creative Justice, a Seattle nonprofit that builds community with youth most impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline.
That started a relationship between Creative Justice and the Seahawks that has not just led to financial donations from the team, but also a real and ongoing connection between an NFL team and the community within which it is located.
That connection continued on Sunday prior to the Seahawks' final home game of the 2021 season, with staff and youth from both Creative Justice and Community Passageways—a Seattle nonprofit that "creates alternatives to incarceration for youth and young adults by rebuilding our communities through committed relationships centered on love, compassion and consistency"— joining Seahawks players for the Microsoft Pregame Huddle, a virtual pregame visit that allowed guests to interact with the team via at Microsoft Surface Hub located at the end of the tunnel players come through in the southwest corner of Lumen Field.
With Seahawks Legend Luke Willson joining the Teams call as a surprise visitor, the youth on the call, many of them aspiring athletes themselves, got to not just hear from current Seahawks as they prepared for the game, but learn more in depth from Willson about what goes into performing at the highest level.
"It's really great to learn about the process of how the players get warmed up, what each group of players means to the team, or what they're doing, or why they're doing it," said Oliver. "I think the youth really enjoy that."
Among the youth on the Teams call was Josiah Burnley, who was one of the recipients of the scholarships given out by the Seahawks Players Equality & Justice For All Action Fund. Wagner recently surprised Burnley on Christmas morning with a trip to the Super Bowl as part of the team's Delta Community Captain program.
And while a chance to rub elbows, virtually at least, is exciting for teenagers and young adults, Sunday's Microsoft Pregame Huddle is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Seahawks' commitment to fighting for racial equity and supporting youth in the community.
Over the past two years the Seahawks have supported multiple documentary short films that tell the stories of organizations like Community Passageways, Choose 180 and Creative Justice, and have awarded social justice grants to various local nonprofits. Most recently, the Seahawks committed $500,000 over the next five years to the development of the Youth Achievement Center, which will provide vital housing and resources for BIPOC youth in South Seattle. The project, which is being developed by Africatown Community Land Trust, in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood, will ultimately be owned by Community Passageways with Creative Justice as the operational and service provider.
"We are really thrilled that the Seahawks are interested in a relationship with the communities that are doing this work," Oliver said. "They're not just in for a one-time transactional donation. It's been really powerful getting to build with the Seahawks as a community partner, as a part of our community and not just from a philanthropy perspective.
"So while the $500,000 over five years is really exciting, what is also exciting is the conversations that are happening around how the Seahawks might want to be involved in the Youth Achievement Center over the long term of its life, and in service in our communities. That is just a different angle than most really large institutions take. A lot of companies would make a one-time donation and move on, but the Seahawks have shown interest in doing something that's sustainable, and they're really focused on building relationships."
Oliver continued, "And I have to get a shout-out to Bobby Wagner. I met him in 2020, right after the first uprising happened, related to George Floyd. He took a lot of interest immediately in figuring out, what are the community organizations that are doing work, and how could he be involved in supporting young people. He's really been an integral part of the Seahawks choosing to build this deeper relationship.
"It's really beautiful seeing the way in which the Seahawks organization has fostered and fed and grown relationships, not just with Creative Justice, not just with Community Passageways, but really, it seems to be building deeper relationships in the community. I wish more organizations would follow the lead of what communities are doing for ourselves, and be willing to get involved and support that work. I think that's really powerful."
Thanks to a technology assist from Microsoft, staff and youth from a pair of local nonprofits, Creative Justice and Community Passageways, were able to chat with players in the tunnel before warming up at Lumen Field on January 2, 2022 as part of the Seahawks' Social Justice game vs. the Lions.