Ahead of the Commanders' New Years Eve game, SeatGeek Legends Plaza was bustling as the 2023 Shop Black Market provided a special hub for fans to learn about and buy goods from local Black-owned businesses.
"We love coming to events like this to meet people out in the community, because they've supported us from Day 1," said Celena GiIl, CEO of Frères Branchiaux. "It's really important to connect in these spaces because a lot of times people don't know what's going on in their community. We're so head down and going to work, taking care of kids, we don't realize the different businesses in the community, the special events and how we can support each other."
The Shop Black Market was one of the highlights of the Commanders' "Inspire Change"-themed game. A league-wide, year-round social justice initiative, Inspire Change aims to reduce barriers to opportunity, particularly in communities of colors. From pregame activations to in-game moments, support and celebration of the Black communities in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia took center stage at FedExField during Week 17.
Now in its third year, the Shop Black Market was the brainchild of the Commanders' Black Engagement Network (B.E.N.), an employee resource group with a mission of fostering a community of support for Washington Commanders employees of the African Diaspora (African American/Black). The Shop Black directory of Black-owned business in DMV that B.E.N. established has become a valuable resource, and the market presents a one-of-a-kind opportunity for these businesses to showcase themselves in-person at games.
"We love being here. It feels great," said Tracy Rookard of the Naked Face, one of the 10. businesses on display at the market. "It's so wonderful what the Commanders do because we're a little micro company, and it's cool that we don't have to deal with fees to go to this kind of event."
While the Shop Black Market focused on the economic pillar outlined by Inspire Change, the in-game Changemaker Award moment underscored another key pillar of the initiative: criminal justice reform. This year, the Changemaker Award was given to Tony Lewis Jr. A D.C. native, Lewis has worked tirelessly over the past two decades to empower individuals previously incarcerated as they re-enter society and to support children with incarcerated parents in the Washington D.C. community.
"This award means a great deal to me because it acknowledges the importance of the work that myself and many others that I lock arms with do in this community day in and day out. Most importantly it acknowledges those that we serve every day, and it helps to amplify the need to further assist and support their journey towards redemption and reunification." Lewis said.
In addition to recognizing this social justice changemaker, the Commanders' Inspire Change game celebrated music changemakers. With a live performance by Sirius Company featuring hip-hop icon Doug E. Fresh, the New Year's Eve Halftime Show presented by Verizon commemorated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop and the go-go music that has shaped D.C. culture.
"Doug E. Fresh always says that hip-hop and go-go are cousins born from the same era that would go on to inspire change through creativity in very different ways," Frank Sirius of Sirius Company said. "The Commanders deserve a ton of credit for highlighting both, 50 years of Hip Hop and the pride of DC -- go-go music!"
Through uplifting art, activism and more with a variety of programming, the Commanders' Inspire Change game spotlighted just a small fraction of the massive impact made by Black communities in D.C. and beyond.