Denver Broncos’ linebacker Shane Ray is a man of considerable poise and wisdom at the young age of 24. Ray has been candid about the difficult circumstances in his childhood: a broken home, estrangement from his father, poverty and homelessness, as well as violence and gangs while growing up in Kansas City, Missouri’s roughest neighborhood–nicknamed the Murder Factory.
The measure of this man is impressive, as he hopes not only of inspiring those who struggle, but has dreams of how his influence and platform can change the future of the community he so dearly loves. Ray frequently shares his story of serious anger issues, and many near failings on his path to the NFL and sees his candor as a means of giving back families struggling as he once has. He is a man of both dreams and action, and clearly has great passion for serving the children of Denver and Kansas City.
As a kid growing up in KC, after the Derrick Thomas camps there wasn’t a lot for the youth to do, especially athletics. So growing up there and now being able to use my platform I thought it was very important to go home first. I wanted to start sending the message that somebody does care care about the community.
On Tuesday, at Ocean Prime Restaurant in Larimer Square, Ray previewed his first gala fundraiser in Denver for his foundation, Rays Awareness. DBZ was honored to be part of the select media invited to discuss the upcoming event. Slated for November 6th at Ocean Prime, the gala promises the opportunity to mingle with Broncos coaches and players, as well as enjoy a delectable steak and seafood dinner at Ocean Prime.
For more information on tickets and sponsorship visit 56shaneray.com
In less than 3 full years in the NFL, Ray has actively sought projects to aid children in both Denver and Kansas City. Beginning with Shane’s Shoes, he has collected footwear for children who struggle to even put shoes on their feet. This is especially dear to Ray because as a young athlete with size 14 feet he had a difficult time affording shoes. He has provided shoes and backpacks filled with school supplies to homeless children living at the Denver Rescue mission. Ray has worked with American Diabetes Association and Colon Cancer Awareness because it has impacted his family, and he has participated in several fundraising challenges for youth events in his short time here in Denver.
I don’t think its really charity work unless you are putting your heart into it. Everything I chose, I have a reason for doing this…the things I am doing with my foundation are things that have impacted my life and I can understand and speak on. I feel I should take advantage of the opportunity and spread more awareness to these things
Last summer Ray was able to host, with his mother Sebrina Johnson and over 100 volunteers, his first free youth football camp for over 200 young people in Kansas City. And it is this work that inspires Shane Ray’s dreams and ultimate goals for his foundation.
My big dream—my vision–I know its going to be tough but I want to bring the money for all the things than can help you be a great player: the coaches that tutor the kids and coach them from a young age. A system and people for the kids that if you start early you teach them about discipline, about how to train, and how to play football.
When Ray got to college at the University of Missouri, he discovered most of his teammates came from states like Texas where kids have more access to sports infrastructure and equipment from an early age. This is what he hopes to work towards bringing home.
I want to bring a system to Kansas City, and not just football. I mean total athletics: football, track, baseball. Give kids the opportunity to do something year round, incorporate bringing in facilities like turf fields and tear out abandoned lots and build football fields and training areas. This is the big picture…I’m 24 years old I’ve got the rest of my life to work on this—its big. This can change the entirety of not only the kids, because now they have outlets-they don’t have to on the streets they can go play baseball. If there’s snow they can go to an indoor facility. They can go do things, and at the same time they can have structure to excel. A lot more kids could be more confident. But when they go to practice and their equipment is falling apart and they barely have fresh water it’s a huge difference.
Ray is very clear that his journey has been blessed by a hardworking mother, who worked 3 jobs to afford private school with better football opportunities, as well as family and friends who supported him as he developed as a player. He also recognizes their tireless commitment to keep him on the straight and narrow every time circumstances threatened to derail his success in life and football. This support system has definitely inspired Ray to contribute now that he is an adult and NFL success story.
I was blessed to come from public school system in Kansas city that wasn’t even accredited for a long time to my mother working 3 jobs to pay for me to go out to a private school. I’ve seen both worlds, and what it can be, and my experience with football taking me across life and meeting people and experiencing things. I have a vision and image of what our city can be, there is nothing I take more pride in than where I’m from…I know tons of athletes I know now who I feel could be in the NFL right now but they are either in jail or in the streets. So if I can create the proper circumstances or create a system city wide it changes the entire face of our community. Now you can’t look at Missouri and say there aren’t any athletes here.
Ray’s passion for his hometown inspires him, and he is actively working with members of the Kansas City Chiefs to support a larger vision. Ray is mindful of the impact and connection players involved in charitable activities can make working together across the NFL. And while he has a strong commitment to changing the vision for his hometown, he is seeking additional ways to support children in Denver as well.
My whole dream…I’m granted the ability to be able to make a huge impact and bring this kind of thing back to the city even though I’m on another team—that’s more important than anything. I’m not stepping on their (Chiefs’ players) toes, I’m including them we are all working together for a bigger picture because I need them to keep doing what they are doing in my city and I need to do more for my city myself and I need to do more for Denver—it’s a chain all of us football players doing charity and are linked. This player might play for this team but he isn’t from here but he’s doing charity work here-everybody’s doing work and everybody’s lending a hand and I’m just trying to be the hand that I can be whatever it is that I can do I’m trying to do
And while Ray dreams big for his foundation and its impact, it remains grounded by the mother who fiercely and tirelessly worked to provide a better life and opportunity for her son, as well as the tribe of close women friends who helped support and provide for Ray and Johnson through adversity.
Please return to DenverBroncosZone for part 2 of the Shane Ray interview.
Ray filming a segment for local news with the Executive Chef from Ocean Prime