The New York Giants Touchdown Fellowship provides scholarships and internships to rising students at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, but it's not just helping them achieve their degrees that excites the organization. It's what they will do with them.
Founded in 1964, John Jay is a senior college in the City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban university system in the world. The community of over 15,000 students is one of the most diverse multicultural colleges in New York City.
In the last five years, John Jay has been recognized as a national leader in a number of key areas. It ranks in the top 10 of institutions for promoting student social mobility, top five for Black student success, and top 10 for minority applicants to law school. It also has one of the largest veteran populations in the Greater NYC area and has been recognized as one of the best colleges for veterans by College Choice.
Through the NFL's "Inspire Change" platform, which showcases the collaborative efforts of players, owners and the league to create positive change in communities across the country, the Giants teamed with John Jay to create the Touchdown Fellowship in 2019. Each year, a group of fellows receives a scholarship to be used for tuition and fees, books and supplies, plus a paid internship at a leading criminal justice organization in the NYC area.
"We wanted to do something to promote our own social justice initiative in conjunction with what the NFL was doing through its 'Inspire Change' program," team president John Mara said. "In speaking to our players, it became apparent that scholarship assistance was a priority, and that hit home with me as well: the idea of providing scholarship assistance to deserving, talented young people who might not have had that opportunity to earn this type of degree were it not for the scholarship assistance. They're going to turn around when they get out of school and have those degrees and put them to use and have an impact on our society."
In 2019, the NFL launched "Inspire Change" to further the national conversation and progress on social justice. Michael Thomas, a defensive back and Pro Bowl special teamer on the team at the time, spearheaded the partnership between the Giants and John Jay. This year, the fellows were Markus Gyabaa-Amponsah (pursuing a B.A. in Political Science), Rohan Malhotra (B.S. in Criminal Justice/B.A. in Law & Society), Samuel Bell (B.S. in Criminal Justice), Shambaleed Nayyer (B.A. in Forensic Psychology) and Shania Roseborough (B.A./M.A. in Criminal Justice).
"Every kind of assistance that we get for our students has a multiplier effect here," said Robin Merle, former vice president for institutional advancement at John Jay. "Our students are just amazing in terms of their goals, their dreams, and as we like to say, fierce advocates for justice. So, when they go out into the world, they bring that justice lens with them, which is really important to us."
"I think this has been a great opportunity for us to be a part of an academic environment but also part of the social justice environment," said Allison Stangeby, the Giants' vice president of community and corporate relations. "And seeing what these students are involved in, what their passion was initially and where they are and their thought process as to where they see themselves, it is really impressive."
In addition to the scholarship, a core element of the Touchdown Fellowship is the internship.
"The impact is as equally huge for the placement sites," said Daonese Johnson-Colón, adjunct lecturer and Giants Touchdown Fellowship faculty mentor. "Not only was [our fellow] able to do the projects, she was able to contribute to it and really point out to our comms team information that we were missing, particularly as a person who was directly impacted [by the justice system]. Our organization is led by a directly impacted person. It's equally important to us to have a fellow who was directly impacted. Clearly [with the Giants], you think sports, but this is a team that is committed to the community that they play in. It happens to be our community."
With three classes in the books, graduation is just the beginning of what the Giants hope is a longstanding relationship with the Touchdown Fellowship alumni.
"The thing we enjoy most is relationships," said Ethan Medley, the Giants' director of community relations and youth football. "One thing that's a goal of ours is that they never feel separated from the New York Giants moving forward, that they know we are encouraging them throughout their entire career. Similar to being a John Jay alum the rest of your life, they're going to be a Giants fellow for the rest of their life. Ten years from now, they're going to be a Giants fellow out in this industry making that change that they dream about right now."
Members of the New York Giants Touchdown Fellowship and their internships:
Ameer S. Lausell (2019-2020) - Bronx Defenders
Niambi A. Cobham (2019-2020) - JustLeadership USA
Mubaraq Alli (2019-2020) - Bronx Defenders
Megan Ryba (2019-2020) - Center of Court Innovation Midtown Community Court
Rahmel Phillips (2019-2020) - Vera Institute of Justice
Briani del Orbe (2020-2021) - Vera Institute for Justice
Camilla Broderick (2020-2021) - JustLeadershipUSA
Daniel Lipford (2020-2021) - Vera Institute for Justice
DeCarlos Hines (2020-2021) - Midtown Community Court
Denny Boodha (2020-2021) - Manhattan Justice Opportunities
Markus Gyabaa-Amponsah (2021-2022) - Bronx Defenders
Rohan Malhotra (2021-2022) - JustLeadershipUSA
Samuel Bell (2021-2022) - Bronx Defenders
Shambaleed Nayyer (2021-2022) - Manhattan Justice Opportunities
Shania Roseborough (2021-2022) - Midtown Community Court