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From protest to progress: Falcons engaged in key community issues in offseason social justice initiative

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – There has been much conversation surrounding NFL, its teams and the relationships clubs have within their respective communities. And the Atlanta Falcons have made it their mission to put those words into action.

Last year, Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank and Coach Dan Quinn engaged players in dialogue geared toward addressing critical issues and creating a positive impact in the city of Atlanta. With Blank's support, Falcons players created a social justice committee to identify issues most important to them and to put a plan together toward progress. Many of the activities they undertook were designed to build relationships with law enforcement officers and to help young people have positive interactions with and perceptions of law enforcement.

"This is not about players. It's not about owners. It's not about the NFL. It's about the issues," Blank said. "I've spent a great deal of time listening to our players. We've got about a dozen players who serve on a committee, if you will, that speak for all of the players – the entire team. And they have made it clear to us issues such as bail-bond reform, social justice and community involvement, law enforcement accountability, just a variety of issues that are very important to them."

The eight Falcons players who make up the social justice committee are Ricardo Allen, Devonta Freeman, Ben Garland, Justin Hardy, Kemal Ishmael, Grady Jarrett, Brian Poole and Mohamed Sanu.

This offseason, the committee and numerous other Falcons carried out their eight-week plan to address those issues. Each week, various players hosted or attended events designed to highlight an important subject and discuss solutions to the identified problems. These events ranged from ride-alongs with Atlanta Police Department officers to visiting local youth centers for conversations about social justice.

By starting a dialogue, the players shared their experiences and opinions while also gaining perspective on differing points of view.

Here is the entire recap of the Falcons' 2018 social justice initiative:

April 16: Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation speaker series

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Speaker Series program featured leaders from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonprofit organization that works to combat hatred and discrimination of all kinds. The program featured George Selim, ADL's senior vice president of programs, Jonathan Broder, contributing writer for Newsweek, and Christian Piccolini, a former white supremacist who now works closely with the ADL to combat hate groups.

April-May: Atlanta Police Department ride-alongs

Falcons players experienced the community through the lens of an Atlanta police officer by taking a ride through the city with the Atlanta Police Department. Several players also participated in a training simulator to learn firsthand what it takes to protect and serve. Through open dialogue and candid conversation, APD officers had the opportunity to provide insight into a side of their jobs rarely seen by the public. These ride-along events were held on a series of dates throughout the spring.

May 2: Thomasville Heights Boys & Girls Club visit

As part of an ongoing police-teen mentoring program, Falcons players and Atlanta police officers joined 18 Thomasville Heights teens for a conversation about social justice. The conversation was centered around violence in their community and examined the messages students received through social media, music, movies and television shows.

May 11: Habitat for Humanity build with Atlanta police officers

Falcons players and police officers worked together on a Habitat for Humanity build that provided a new home to a family on Atlanta's Westside.

May 14: Private dinner with Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson

In response to Falcons players wanting to dig deeper into social justice issues tied to institutional racism, players had a private dinner with Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. The EJI's racial justice program explores the legacy of slavery, racial terrorism, segregation and contemporary issues of mass incarceration, excessive punishment and police violence.

May 23: Visit to the Atlanta Police Department's At-Promise Youth Center

Falcons players joined by Atlanta police officers and youth in a conversation about the relationships between community and the police, and ways to build stronger bonds. The At-Promise Center is the cornerstone of the Atlanta Police Foundation's youth crime reduction initiative, serving up to 150 youth each year with specialized programming for children and young adults, ages 12 to 24, who reside on Atlanta's Westside.

June 5: High school football leadership day

The program paired up six rising seniors from each of two Atlanta high school football squads – Booker T. Washington High School and Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School – for a day-long immersion into the Atlanta Falcons culture. With a Falcons player assigned to mentor each student pairing, the high school players joined in the full day of practice, from locker room to team meetings to the practice field. The experience will help transfer the Falcons culture and values into the locker rooms of these two schools. These young student athletes are our connection to the future of positive activism. This mentorship will be invaluable in helping develop diverse leaders.

June 7: 'Monsters and Men' private movie screening

Falcons players viewed a sneak preview for a new movie with a fall release date, "Monsters and Men." After capturing an illegal act of police violence on his cell phone, a Brooklyn street hustler sets off a series of events that alter the lives of a local police officer and a star high school athlete.

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