Giving back to his hometown of Kansas City always went hand-in-hand with Denver Broncos outside linebacker Shane Ray’s dream of NFL stardom.
A consensus All-American and the 2014 SEC Defensive Player of Year after breaking Mizzou’s single-season sacks record, Ray was a first-round pick by the Broncos and is a rising NFL star with 12 career sacks, including eight last season.
The other part of his vision will begin to be realized Saturday with “Shane Ray’s Cotton Club Event” at the Firestone Building, located at 2001 Grand Blvd.
The event celebrates the launch of Rays Awareness, a charitable foundation he established “to inspire kids to dream” and “assist youth and their families in underserved areas in Kansas City/Denver to reach their full potential through sports programs and activities.”
“When I was young playing football, I used to tell my mom (Sebrina Johnson) that, if I made it, I wanted to bring something back to the city,” said Ray, a Kansas City native and Bishop Miege graduate. “This is really just one of the building blocks for something that I want to develop into something so much bigger.”
Shane Ray’s Cotton Club Event, which is set for 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., costs $25 per person or $350 per table. Tickets are available at www.raysawareness.eventbrite.com.
“I used to tell Shane, whatever you dream, speak it into existence and you can do it,” Johnson said. “We didn’t know this football thing would happen this way, but … I’m honored and blessed that we’re able to give back to the community.”
The event will double as Johnson’s birthday celebration.
“It’s a real exciting weekend,” Johnson said. “We’ve been working on this for a long time, and it’s finally coming to fruition. I’m just really proud of him and honored that were able to launch it on my birthday. I didn’t want any gifts. I just wanted to be able to launch his foundation and give him support and get Kansas City involved in what we’re trying to do.”
Guests must dress in Roaring 20s attire and will enter on a red carpet to enjoy an evening with Da Truth Band, a local jazz and blues ensemble, along with a Roaring 20s-themed dance group.
Ray’s other outreach work includes Shane Shoes, which provides cleats and other footwear for children in need, and a role with the American Diabetes Association, speaking with Congressmen about research and funding for a disease that’s impacted his family.
“I can raise awareness of so many things,” Ray said. “I feel like I’ve been blessed to experience a lot of different goods and bads in life, and I can shed light on a lot of different areas.”
He hopes to have the kind of impact late Hall of Fame outside linebacker Derrick Thomas had with his Third and Long Foundation, which was active in impoverished neighborhoods like Ray’s stomping ground as a child, “The Murder Factory.”
“There haven’t been too many athletes to unify the city and bring everybody out since Derrick Thomas,” Ray said. “With my foundation and my charities, I want to build it to where I can have the same kind of impact here. I can bring in people and celebrities, have events for Kansas City to come out and show support but also for a good cause.”
Ray hopes his civic ambition will inspire other community leaders to engage in or partner with him for philanthropic endeavors.
“Whatever we want to do collectively as a city, we can do that,” Ray said. “I’m really just trying to restart something that I saw when I was a kid. I want to bring that back for my generation.”
Shane Ray’s Cotton Club event is the beginning.
“Our focus for the Ray’s Awareness Foundation is to teach kids to dream,” Johnson said. “As adults, we forget how to enjoy that and be able to do that. I thought it would be fun to start with the adults and for us to pretend to be at a different era and remember how fun that is. We can, in turn, teach our kids to dream as well.”