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Metropolitan Family Services: An NFL “Inspire Change” Story

Metro Family Services has been lifting up communities in the Chicago area for longer than NFL teams have played football.

The NFL has designated Weeks 17 and 18 of the regular season as a first-of-its-kind showcase for the league’s “Inspire Change” social justice program. This presents a sincere opportunity to shine a light on several of the NFL’s grant partners focused on causes like criminal justice reform, education, and police-community relationships.

Today, Boardroom goes behind the scenes of Chicago-based Metropolitan Family Services, an organization with a history that notably reaches back before the first NFL game was even played.

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What is MFS?

Money donated to the Windy City after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 actually went to creating what would become Metro Family Serivces. For years, MPS has supported causes like education, economic stability, emotional wellness, and empowerment.

But over 100 years later, following the murder of Laquan McDonald in 2014 and what was then a record year for gun violence in 2016, MPS fully stepped into a new arena: social justice. 

The organization created the Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P) program following the Summer of ’16. The initiative contains three distinct pillars:

  1. Violence prevention: MPS outreach workers identify threats to prevent shootings or receive notifications of shooting incidents. The workers then respond to the threat or incident and attempt to de-escalate tensions, control rumors and support families of victims and perpetrators of violence to prevent the next shooting. 
  2. Light in the Night: According to MPS’ website, in the Summer public places such as parks, gyms or schools become target areas for communities with the goal benign to create access to the park for all community members regardless of age, affiliation or status. The programming normally takes place from Thursday through Saturday. The spaces offer free food during the hours of operation and last 10 weeks.
  3. Metropolitan Peace Academy: The Academy’s goal is to enhance community-level capacity to reduce violence, and therefore focuses on developing skills and knowledge rooted in community-driven knowledge while also drawing from research and evidence-based practices.

MPS first got connected with the NFL was through the MPS’ executive director of peace initiatives, Vaughn Bryant. Bryant, a former NFL player who also worked at the league office, then met with Anna Isaacson, the league’s senior vice president of social responsibility. Isaacson encouraged Bryant and MPS to apply for an Inspire Change grant.

Bryant told Boardroom because he had worked at the league before and was familiar with the people there he was confident in his application. “I always try to think about what life would look like when our Black communities are healthy,” Bryant told Boardroom in an interview.  I want to see that day when they are healthy and I appreciate the NFL being a part of the mix that is making that happen.”

In 2020, the NFL awarded a $350,000 grant to Metro Family Services. The money has been used to train 100 police officers in the city of Chicago thus far.

“We decided to train community members in each police district to host police officers who are going to police their district in a training that is going to give them a community level of lens on their community and how they want to be policed,” Bryant said.

MFS x NFL: The State of the Partnership

As Bryant concludes:

“It’s been great so far. Obviously, the financial help is always good because it allows us to get ourselves more integrated into the Chicago Police Department. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of us being a part of the Chicago Police academy long-term. That would be our goal — to train every single officer.

“It helps with innovation with flexible private dollars. They’ve brought attention to the work that we do. With that platform that they have when they tell a story it’s going to reach millions of people across the world. I’m grateful to be able to be a part of that and it is up to us to be good stewards of the support they give us and try to do the most good that we can while we have it.”

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