ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jack Brewer wanted to make an impact, and he knew just the place to do so.
The former Vikings safety launched the "American Heroes" Youth Football Celebration on Wednesday morning as kids and cops came together to bond over football and core values at the West St. Paul Regional Athletics Center.
Brewer hosted roughly 200 youth and 40 law enforcement officials as they used a combination of team-bonding activities and flag football to build a stronger community.
"Minnesota is my second home. I came here from Texas, and this state really helped me become the man I am today," said Brewer, who was with the Vikings in 2002 and 2003. "I got a chance to play for the University of Minnesota and then went on to a great couple years with the Minnesota Vikings.
"I thought it was fitting to bring it here and start it here," Brewer said. "We're trying to make a statement, and hopefully it can spread around the country."
Brewer has been involved in social impact for the past few years and was recently named the national spokeperson for the Police Athletic League, a non-profit group dedicated to reducing crime among youth while minimizing the stigma of police officers.
Wednesday's event started with kids talking with members of RISE (the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality), which was started by Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross).
The kids focused on three stations — trust, teamwork and community building — to show how a group of strangers can come together for a common goal.
"In those leadership sessions, they were doing things like trust walks and teamwork activities," said Kim Miller, the Vice President of Leadership and Education Program for RISE. "It was really hands-on and interactive on how we can build a stronger community here."
The focus then shifted to football as former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, a 2018 Hall of Fame finalist, surprised the group with an impromptu question-and-answer session.
Lewis, who won two Super Bowls with Baltimore, implored to the group about the values of hard work, getting a good education and what motivation him to succeed.
Perhaps the best piece of advice Lewis doled out was good people fit in is good, but great people fit out. In other words, Lewis told the youth to break the norm and always work hard to follow their dreams.
The young people then went through a variety of football drills as they learned the basics of the game such as catching, throwing and agility drills. One station was a full-on flag football game monitored by former Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson, who is now the Vikings Youth Football Manager.
Henderson said that he always encourages youth to interact with law enforcement and get to know them on a personal level.
"The more events we can do like this, where the kids can see the cops in a regular forum and not always on the street on in a bad situation, a lot of the rumors, and misnomers and misconceptions [will go away]," Henderson said.
And on the flip side, John Lozoya, the Senior Commander of Community Engagement with the St. Paul Police Department noted it's important for cops to interact with kids in non-stressful situations.
"The kids see that the officer is a regular person, just like themselves or people in their lives," Lozoya said. "It can inspire trust, it can inspire maybe a career in law enforcement … there are a lot of benefits to this kind of interaction. We can build something together and worthwhile."
That's certainly Brewer's goal, as he hopes that a day spent by youth and law enforcement officers bonding through football and trust can be a step in the right direction.
"It can't be fixed by grant money or short-term policies. This takes a systemic approach where you really put support around kids," Brewer said. "You see right here, we have dozens of police officers here and they're getting along great with the kids. We're speaking the same language and teaching the kids the same values."
"I'm humbled to start off the Super Bowl by putting together such a meaningful event," Brewer added. "But we're going to continue to work at it."