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Bills announce series of social justice initiatives in partnership with Mayor Brown 

Dion Dawkins. Buffalo Bills take part in the Inspire Change Outreach Day at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo on May 6, 2019.
 Photo by Sara Schmidle
Dion Dawkins. Buffalo Bills take part in the Inspire Change Outreach Day at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo on May 6, 2019. Photo by Sara Schmidle

Dion Dawkins, Jerry Hughes, Taiwan Jones, and Josh Norman joined Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown and members of the Buffalo City School District on Thursday to announce a series of community initiatives geared toward inspiring change and eradicating systemic racial inequities.

The four Buffalo Bills players outlined three priorities that the organization will focus on during the 2020 season: internet availability for students, voter registration, and census awareness.

To those ends, the Bills have committed to donating funds that will help provide internet to approximately 4,500 homes of Buffalo Public School students in addition to promoting census participating and voting education.

The players also expressed support for Brown's police reform efforts under the Buffalo Reform Agenda and the "#8CantWait" campaign, the latter of which outlines eight points of reform in an effort bring change to police departments around the county.

Hughes, who spoke in August about how the Bills could use their platform to promote social justice in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake, said the team outlined these initiatives as a way of enacting practical change in the community.

"A lot of our lives have been impacted by the coronavirus, so it gave us plenty of time to reflect not only on our lives but a lot that was going on around the country," Hughes said. "We felt like, once we got together as a team, how could we come together as a team and cause some positive change and actually come up with a solution?"

Brown called the partnership between the Bills, the City of Buffalo, and Buffalo Public Schools a "game changer" and a model for other organizations in cities across the league to follow.

"The commitment that the Bills players have to social justice and racial equity is leadership that will resonate throughout our entire community, but will resonate nationally and globally as well," Brown said.

Here is a break down of how the Bills plan to attack each of the three priorities announced Thursday.

1. Closing the digital divide

Hughes said one of the first priorities he and his teammates had was figuring out a way to help kids in Buffalo. Given the emphasis placed on virtual learning as a result of COVID-19, they decided that providing Wi-Fi to families could create a sizeable impact.   

The donation will come from Bills players, staff, and team owners Terry and Kim Pegula.

"There's too many children and families [without internet], not because we do it on purpose or not because they don't want to be connected, but because there is a system that sometimes disconnects them," Buffalo Public Schools superintendent Kriner Cash said.

"We're going to close that gap. We're going to accept no excuses and we're going to have all our children and families connected and being able to continue and get an equal and high-quality education this year and every year going forward."

2. Census participation

Brown outlined the costly effects of underreporting in the census, which ends on Sept. 30.

"Like many others, the players were surprised to hear that the City of Buffalo lost hundred of millions of dollars in federal funding since 2010 because we were undercounted in the last census," Brown said.

The Bills players have committed to becoming involved with the city's public awareness campaign, including use of the Buffalo Public Schools' robocall system. The hope is that the players' stature and influence in the community will encourage a higher turnout.

"For any city or for any entity to be missing out on that kind of money is huge, especially when it's something that us as people, we can contribute and it's just literally two minutes of your day to fill out an online form," Hughes said. "… We need that money to help continue to grow."

3. Voter education

Hughes has been a vocal advocate for participation at the ballots, acknowledging the sacrifices that have been made throughout the country's history for equal voting rights.

"I think it's something that a lot of the youth and a lot of Americans need to take up on that opportunity," Hughes said.

Players have committed to helping education efforts when it comes to registration, voting by mail, and early voting.

"On the platform that we have, we can create and impact so many people that people would never think we could reach if we just work together," Dawkins said.

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