Memphis Grizzlies, Pepsi launch campaign for youth opportunities

The Grizzlies announced this week a partnership with Pepsi aimed at strengthening the Memphis community through mentorship, workforce development and building bridges for high school and college students.

The Pepsi Stronger Together campaign – a series of grassroots initiatives that provide support to communities across the nation with the help of the Shaquille O’Neal Foundation – will bring tailored resources to the Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards.

“We know our bread-and-butter is basketball, at the end of the day,” Abusheri Ohwofasa, Grizzlies vice president of community engagement and executive director of the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation told The Commercial Appeal Wednesday. “But we also take pride in being able to be great community members as well. That’s part of our DNA.”

Among the top objectives of the campaign, the Grizzlies and Pepsi will launch a six-to-seven week program geared toward bridging the gap between young people in Memphis with law enforcement. The Close The Gap Foundation has labeled these initiatives Squad Goals and Cool Down Conversations,” and they will use sports as a way to address things such as self-esteem, youth-police relations and leadership.

Something else Ohwofasa said is on the horizon for the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation is a partnership with the University of Memphis and LeMoyne-Owen College. The goal of the Pay It Forward campaign is to facilitate the mentoring components that benefit both college and high school students. They will be paired together for an eight-week mentorship program providing students exposure to opportunities and lessons designed to prepare them for college and their future careers.

Pay It Forward will also promote Historically Black Colleges and Universities awareness through a combination of HBCU-hosted college fairs throughout the Memphis area in partnership with The HBCU Awareness Foundation. Participating college students will be granted paid internships at Pepsi and other program partners to better allow them to apply their mentorship learning and life skills in the workforce.

“The Grizzlies Foundation’s passion is changing the community through mentoring,” Ohwofasa said. “Providing equitable opportunities educationally and from an economic standpoint. Allowing young people, especially African-Americans, to be able to not only receive mentorship and learning opportunities, but to let this be a launchpad to economic opportunities.

“With this, we’re giving them hands-on experience so when they leave, they have resume’s, they have mock interview experience, they’ve got networking skills. And, hopefully, if they come back to Memphis, they can share their learnings or share what they’ve experienced. It goes a long way. I think where we are now, we want to make sure we’re providing young people with every opportunity and resource we can.”

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at or on Twitter @munzly.

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