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Buffalo PAL executive director named the Bills 2023 Inspire Change Changemaker + surprised with a Super Bowl trip

Dion Dawkins presented 2023 Changemaker of the year award winner Nekia Kemp with a trip to this year's Super Bowl at the Buffalo Bills Community Honors Dinner, December 5, 2023 at Wayland Brewing Company in Orchard Park, New York.
Dion Dawkins presented 2023 Changemaker of the year award winner Nekia Kemp with a trip to this year's Super Bowl at the Buffalo Bills Community Honors Dinner, December 5, 2023 at Wayland Brewing Company in Orchard Park, New York.

Nekia Kemp is surrounded by angels.

The 2023 Inspire Change Changemaker and executive director of the Police Athletic League of Buffalo said as much last Tuesday at the Buffalo Bills Foundation Community Honors dinner, where she was surprised with tickets to the Super Bowl.

"I'm truly in a room full of angels and supporters that understand the hard work at hand," Kemp said. "I was chosen to lead an organization that was different, that thinks out of the box, that works with law enforcement."

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the Buffalo Bills Toyota Rookie Club had the opportunity to partner with PAL's Youth Opportunity Connect program as Dalton Kincaid, O'Cyrus Torrence and the rest of the rookies served as guests for high school student's podcasting debuts.

Led by Adriana Viverette, or ADRI.V as she is known on the airwaves, students have had the chance to learn how to produce and host podcasts at the Innovation Center in downtown Buffalo. The program is one of many that PAL has installed for children interested in activities outside of sports.

"We're looking into other realms to make sure that we're supporting the whole child," Kemp said after the podcasts had been wrapped up. "What we're hearing from our kids is that their voices aren't always heard, especially when it comes to issues around things that are happening in their community that they have no say in … so launching this podcast for them gives them their voice, helps them find their light, lets them talk about subjects that are really relatable to them."

Kemp was born on the East Side of Buffalo to a teenage mother. She thanked her own family for allowing her to be a "mother to many children." PAL serves around 16,000 to 20,000 children annually.

"I need [the children of Buffalo] to know and everyone needs them to know that they're not forgotten," Kemp said. "We're going to continue to wrap our arms around them and provide that support that they need in order to move us forward as a community."

In addition to supporting the Buffalo Police Athletic League's Youth Connect Program, the Buffalo Bills Social Justice fund also supported several programs throughout Buffalo this past year, including:

Say Yes Buffalo's Youth Sports Management Leadership Academy

Through the Youth Sports Management Leadership Academy program, young men across Buffalo Public Schools and public charter schools have been able to access a robust youth development curriculum covering topics from sports leadership to the intersections of sports and social justice as well as specific training in coaching and officiating football, basketball and track and field.

Some opportunities participants have had the chance to partake in include a camping retreat to prepare for the school year and a tour of KeyBank Arena followed by a Sabres game.

"We understand the vital needs from the young men wanting to grasp a deeper understanding intellectually about sports, whether that's playing the sports or the business side, but then also how do we drive the need to fulfil these positions whether it's coaching or officials with the young people with their power, with their voice, they're going to be the decision makers?" said interim youth sports management supervisor Jamien Eutsey. "So we want to set them up early and put them in leadership positions and things of that nature so that they can get a grasp of sports management hands on rather than just having a conversation."

Buffalo Peacemakers' Buffalo HEAT (Health, Empowerment, Attitude & Teamwork)

The Buffalo Peacemakers, led by Pastor James Giles, created the Buffalo HEAT program to use restorative practices, physical exercise and nutrition to help at-risk youth ages 15-18 develop self-understanding and a positive sense of purpose.

Giles started the Buffalo Peacemakers, a group of mentors who work with youth and mediate conflicts, in the mid-2000s under his Back to Basics Ministries. Giles said that his understanding of the social divisions created by redlining and systemic racism inspired him to develop Buffalo HEAT in an effort to combat these deep-rooted issues.

"I'm very deeply in urban sociology as well as urban psychology. So, in my counseling practice for over 30 years, I get a sense of the pain and suffering that lack of economic development and the impact it has on neighborhoods," Giles said. "That has a dreadful impact on the consciousness of a neighborhood. … So it's very redeeming for me to see a program that works."

Buffalo Prep's Youth Equity Academy, READI and Culturally Relevant Programming

Buffalo Prep is an education nonprofit organization that helps students of color prepare for and excel at college preparatory high schools. Scholars participate in highly personalized academic and enrichment programs to prepare them to make the most of their educational opportunities.

The Youth Equity Academy is a program for high school scholars interested in transcending racism. The programs focus on having critical conversations about equity, equality and breaking down systemic barriers within their school communities as well as their neighboring communities. As most of the participants attend predominantly white high schools, students are encouraged to bring white allies to attend programming centered around addressing implicit bias, white privilege and other systemic issues.

"It's really a civic engagement program to kind of help students who are passionate about transcending racism and inequality and really to help them engage in critical conversations," said senior director of college prep David Johnson.

Buffalo Prep's READI (Realizing equity, access, diversity and inclusion) program is a series of workshops, trainings and presentations available to companies, schools and organizations to educate staff who may not have experience working with diverse students.

"Really this was built out of our call to action as an organization in the community around the DEI work," Johnson said. "We wanted to share our story, our progress, our journey with how we became an antiracist organization, how we've made a commitment to diversifying everything that we do and making sure that we're looking at everything through an equitable lens."

Buffalo Center for Arts & Technology's ETHOS 2.0

The Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology focuses on the creative expression, academic efficiency and social emotional development of youth in Buffalo. With their ETHOS 2.0 program, BCAT provides career opportunities for young people through the arts, technology and workforce development. Instructors are experienced and successful experts in their field who offer high-quality programming and mentorship in fine art, music production, 3D printing as well as other mediums.

"Youth get to engage in professional practices that mix together what an internship would be like with professional experiences," said instructional coordinator Kevin Kline.

Participants are paid for the work that they produce out of the ETHOS 2.0 program, further enabling them to explore their creative interests while pursuing employment opportunities.

The Buffalo Bills hosted the third annual Community Honors Dinner which celebrated the work being done off the field, all year long in our community by incredible volunteers, organizations, fans as well as former and current players. The event benefited the Buffalo Bills Foundation.

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