By William McFadden
Raising three children in Louisville as a single mother in her early twenties was not easy for June Embers but the lessons she instilled during that time have resulted in a greater deal of good existing in this world.
June was always up front with her children, explaining to them the situation they were in and how they arrived there. She acted as both a mother and a mentor to her children, seeking to provide and educate at all moments. And there were plenty of moments when the family had to face hard truths, such as relying on the generosity of others to pay for uniforms and equipment so June's children could participate in youth sports or lacking the money to take swimming lessons in the summer with friends.
In order to provide, June often had to improvise. Without the money to go out for entertainment, the family had to create their own with each other.
"I bought a lot of movies," said June, now age 49 and an engineering administrative specialist at Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District. "Our favorite pastime was movies. I had every children's movie that you could want, and we just sat around and watched movies. And that was our favorite time, we talked about everything."
Movies played a foundational role in the lives of June and her children, and it remains a major topic of conversation for the family today. Those films brought many joyful moments for the family, such as June's two boys singing and dancing out scenes from "The Temptations" or running through Disney classics like "The Lion King" and "Tarzan."
Despite not having any spare change, June and her children did their best to make the absolute most of their situation. And after growing up with a mother like that, it's no wonder why Falcons guard Jamon Brown is so committed to being a positive force in his community.
When you’re in a bad, tough spot, it’s kind of hard sometimes to be vulnerable. To let people in and be like, ‘Hey, I’m struggling.’ … If I’m ever in a position to help, I definitely want to do that. Jamon Brown
As the youngest member of the family, Jamon, 26, learned a lot of lessons from his mother as a child while moving from home to home with his twin brother Jamaal and sister Brittany, but compassion for others' struggles was among the most important. It has shaped his philosophy towards giving back, and helped lead him to create the Jamon Brown Foundation, which has begun to help make many communities a better place.
"When you're in a bad, tough spot, it's kind of hard sometimes to be vulnerable," Jamon said. "To let people in and be like, 'Hey, I'm struggling.' It's a number of things, but the humility that she showed just stuck with me. If I'm ever in a position to help, I definitely want to do that. And, also, I want to create the kind of environment where people feel comfortable with getting help and don't feel shunned or embarrassed."
Real life happens … and that's OK
Jamon's experiences as a child growing up in Louisville continue to inform his actions today as a professional football player.
Although he's currently in the midst of a career most little kids can only dream of, he's focused on using the fruits of his labor in ways uncommon for someone his age – most men and women early in their careers are locked in on where they want to go, not what they've left behind.
But Jamon never forgets what he's left behind, because he understands that just because he no longer has to deal with homelessness doesn't mean the problem isn't still ever-present for many others.
"My dreams became my reality, but my dreams also put me in the position where I don't have to worry about those problems," Jamon said. "And the people I care about don't have to worry. But not everybody is blessed to be in that situation."
Jamon has always had a philanthropic nature; it's fundamental to who he is as a person. As early as middle school, June began to see her son's capacity to care for others.
He’s gone past what I imagined he possibly would do, and it makes me want to say wow, how can I do more? He really inspires me. June Embers
Church was a big part of Jamon's life growing up. His mother worked as a youth supervisor at Greater Salem Baptist Church, so Jamon and his siblings were there three or four times each week. June recalls watching Jamon interact with other children who were going through their own hard times and how her son would always leave them with a smile on their faces.
"I just knew that he enjoyed doing that, just giving somebody something," June said. "Even if it wasn't tangible, even if it was just his words. Here and there I could see that he was that type of person that like to give something to somebody."
Jamon can now give more than words, using the prosperity he has earned for himself to allow others the opportunities and even bare necessities that they wouldn't otherwise have. But these actions didn't occur solely because Jamon reached a certain status, they have always been a part of his plan.
Leaving football practice one day, June had a conversation with her son. As is often the case with middle school boys, the discussion centered around a future on the football field, but it ended in a fashion that was anything but common.
"When he said that he wanted to do football, he was like, 'And I also want to give back to the community,'" June said. "So, we talked about him opening up a community center.
"Even back then we were dreaming big."
Turning dreams into reality
After four seasons at the University of Louisville, Jamon's NFL career began when the then St. Louis Rams selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft. Now, in a situation to really make a difference, Jamon wasted little time in putting a system in place to do just that.
In May of 2017, a few months before the start of his third NFL season, Jamon officially created the Jamon Brown Foundation. The foundation works to create a model for change and has four main areas of emphasis:
- Dealing with at-risk youth
- Youth and young-adult homelessness
- Healthy living
- Disproportionate education in homeless areas
In implementing his vision for the foundation, which focuses on the Louisville community but also does work around the world, Jamon has help from Danny Mosby, the foundation's executive director.
"He really spearheads how we execute everything that we do," Jamon said. "I would love to say all the ideas are solely from me, but I've got a team that they bring different things and then he goes out and figures out how we can plug in and make it happen."
While Jamon is focused on his NFL career, Danny seeks to keep his eyes and ears open to what is going on in the community and find situations that are in line with the foundation's core principles.
One such situation Danny discovered was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Bong County, Liberia.
This summer, the Jamon Brown Foundation will be working with Community Partners International to provide healthcare to children in Bong County villages stricken with cancerous tumors.
Helping children in Liberia might seem like something outside of the scope of a foundation in Louisville, but Jamon and Danny actively seek to be involved, regardless of where, when or how.
"We don't want to be standing on the sidelines and have to be called and begged for money or begged for his platform and resources," Danny said. "We want to be proactive, and we want to initiate and engage with those fit our mission to let them know that we're here to help."
Jamon's foundation has found several ways to make an impact in recent months. There was the decision to pay for the funeral of a 1-month old child who died after his father allegedly struck him in the head following the loss of a video game.
That situation, which Danny brought to his attention, was one that particularly stood out to Jamon.
"For a person to act out in that way, and then your child loses their life; my heart was like dang," Jamon said. "Just a snap, quick (judgment), and then that changes everything."
The Jamon Brown Foundation partnered with the Children's Hospital Foundation to cover the funeral costs for the family, and although it was ultimately a small gesture, it's one that Jamon was eager and happy to make.
"Dang, I was able to be instrumental in helping this family receive some type of closure," Jamon said. "That was really what inspired me … It can be small. Which, that's big, but what it took was small."
A slightly bigger action that Jamon and Danny undertook in recent weeks will impact a number of families in the Louisville area. Partnering with Papa Johns and the Atlanta Falcons, the Jamon Brown Foundation will help provide funds to give members of the community the opportunity to swim this summer.
A $65 million shortfall in the city budget meant Louisville's public pools – where Jamon, his brother and sister spent time learning to swim – would be closed throughout the summer. Initially, Jamon and the Atlanta Falcons stepped up with funding in an effort to keep the pools open. And while the pools will remain closed this summer, the funds provided by Jamon's foundation, the Falcons and Papa Johns will allow the community to have 10 swim events this summer.
"I remember growing up, you get out of school and you're looking for things to do," Jamon said. "For us, we would go to the pool. It's kind of like a party without being a party. We all would meet up at the pool, and I wanted to allow those kids nowadays to have something where they can be active in. If you don't have anything for them to be active in, then they can get involved in the wrong things."
The work that Jamon and Danny do through their foundation is varied but with the goal of inspiring others to join alongside them in lending a helping hand. The concept of teamwork is something that has been a constant in Jamon's life through football, and he approaches philanthropy in much the same way.
There are a number of other charitable foundations and groups that the Jamon Brown Foundation works with in the Louisville area, including the Family Scholar House of Louisville, the Coalition for the Homeless and Metro United Way.
But Jamon's experiences of growing up in the very community he is seeking to help give him a unique perspective and make him a powerful voice of inspiration.
"The pure light and joy and inspiration that he provides to the community that looks like him," said Theresa Reno-Weber, president and CEO of Metro United Way. "That comes from his neighborhood, his area. Those kids that are saying wow, not only is this somebody who maybe understands what I'm going through or what I've been through but is also showing me that there is a future. And part of that future is not only making good for myself but also making good for others."
Bringing his mission to Atlanta
While Louisville will always be a central focus for Jamon and his foundation, he has made an effort to create an impact in each of the cities he's played football, including his new home of Atlanta.
The Falcons, through players like Grady Jarrett and Devonta Freeman, are very much focused on creating change within the Atlanta community. Last offseason, the team created a social justice committee that implemented a plan towards progress by taking place in police ride-alongs and hosting teen mentoring programs, among other initiatives.
Entering an environment like the one the Falcons have created offers a lot of exciting possibilities for Jamon, but like all good leaders, he understands the importance of first learning and following while still gaining trust.
"I've always been a respectful guy," Jamon said. "I come in and first try to learn which other guys are already doing stuff that maybe I can be a part of. So then in turn, I can get them to be a part of things that I'm doing, and we can make a bigger impact."
That respect has already begun to pay dividends. Jamon received a pair of cleats from both Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman for a silent auction at his recent celebrity golf tournament, which raised over $100 thousand to combat homelessness in the Louisville area.
The work that Jamon is doing to help communities all over the world is a fulfillment of the promise he made to his mother when they were both dreaming big after a football practice one afternoon. It's a commitment to inspire those with the means to help others to do just that.
At an early age, Jamon and his family learned that hard times come from us all. But that's not supposed to be a source of shame or a sign of weakness; it's OK to struggle at times. Jamon strives to be that helping hand for those dealing with some of the problems he faced growing up in a single-mother household, a symbol of hope in situations that can be as bleak as they come.
"I mean, proud is one word," June said of her feelings towards the man her son has become. "But it also makes me humbled, and it makes me want to do more. He's gone past what I imagined he possibly would do, and it makes me want to say wow, how can I do more? He really inspires me."