Donor Spotlight: Braylon Edwards
During this most uncommon season, UMS has been especially grateful for our donors’ and community partners’ continued support and belief in our mission. Thanks to their generosity, we have been able to continue to invest in artists and their work, widen the impact of the arts by making our digital offerings free to everyone, and explore new ways of delivering uncommon and engaging experiences with artists. Although we are not able to share and celebrate these stories of support in person, we are excited to unveil this Donor Spotlight blog to recognize these important contributions as well as offer a nostalgic look back on some fond UMS memories.
This week we recognize Braylon Edwards, who is no stranger to the University of Michigan campus but is one of UMS’s newest patrons and donors. Braylon is the Patron Sponsor for UMS’s digital presentation of Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Isata Kanneh-Mason. Braylon was a prolific wide receiver for the Wolverines which led to him being the third overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft. Braylon retired from the NFL in 2014 and then spent a few years as a sports commentator for ESPN and the BIG10 Network. In 2019, Braylon published his first book, Doing It My Way, which chronicled his outspoken life as a Michigan Wolverine. Prior to his support of UMS, Braylon’s philanthropy focused on athletic scholarships in Cleveland and at the University of Michigan. Braylon has recently started working with nonprofits on mental health initiatives.
Tell us a little about your background with the arts: Musical talents? First performing arts experience? Did you grow up with the arts or come to them as an adult?
My first experience with the arts was when my mother took me to see The Nutcracker when I was 9 years old. Then, when I was 11, we saw The Lion King when it was on tour. Growing up in Detroit, I was lucky enough to attend King High School which offered a vibrant arts program for its students. Admittedly, I was probably more focused on athletics and following in my father’s footsteps, as he played for the U of M and later in the NFL. During my own college and NFL career, I always pushed myself to be the best. I definitely took inspiration from the excellence I saw in various forms of human performance, whether it was in sports or in the arts. I have a lot of respect for those who perform at the highest level in their field. Whether it was Michael Jackson or Misty Copeland, going to shows and seeing artists onstage was inspiring. Looking at my involvement with UMS and its mission, I’m grateful for the way that arts enriched my life as a child, and I want to help ensure others of the same opportunity.
When and how did you first become involved with UMS?
My first UMS performance was on March 3, 2020 – Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma. As I mentioned before, my earliest experiences with the arts were because of my mother, so it was fitting that she would come with me to this performance. We even had an opportunity to watch the trio rehearse before the concert. It was my first introduction to classical music, but I sensed the high level of talent and artistry on stage, and with the amazing backdrop that is Hill Auditorium, it felt magical.
What about UMS inspired you to become a donor?
While playing at U of M for Lloyd Carr, he told me that “you should become a part of something bigger than you….no man is bigger than the team.” This advice has helped guide me through life and, more importantly, helped inform my philanthropy. Looking back on my childhood, growing up as a Black male in Detroit, I didn’t have easy access to classical music and other traditional or classical arts. I was truly blown away walking into Hill Auditorium and seeing a packed house, for an international phenomenon like Yo-Yo Ma. In Ann Arbor of all places! Since then, I’ve also learned more about what UMS does to extend its programming into the community and into the classrooms of schools across the region. I am hoping that my gift to UMS inspires more student-athletes at Michigan and minority donors to get engaged with “unfamiliar” areas. I support the arts because they matter…now more than ever.
UMS’ motto is Be Present. During these times, we hope our community Stays Present until we can safely return to our normal programming. How are you ‘Staying Present’ with the arts?
I’ve really appreciated how many presenters are still providing virtual presentations and creating artistic experiences for their audiences. I’m especially looking forward to UMS’ digital presentation of Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason. I was blown away by this talented family and their story of excellence. I hope my enthusiasm, both as a donor and audience member, will inspire other U-M alumni and student-athletes, as well as Detroit students, to be introduced to the arts. Their digital presentation also felt like the perfect opportunity to make my first gift to UMS. My first UMS experience was watching Yo-Yo Ma, a living legend, and I believe Sheku is the future of cello greatness.