Robert Jamerson knows firsthand the importance of the Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL). A native Detroiter, he became a PAL kid at 9 years old after seeing people running around his neighborhood wearing football equipment.
Playing sports, meeting friends and gaining experience with PAL guided Jamerson in a positive direction as a youth, eventually leading him back to Detroit PAL, where he currently serves as Chief Executive Officer.
As an honoree of the 2022 Black History Month Game Changers series, the Tigers, Red Wings and Comerica Bank are privileged to share the story of Jamerson and the generational impact he is making on young Detroiters.
“As a longtime supporter of Detroit PAL through programs like Tiny Tigers, we’re honored to celebrate Robert Jamerson as a Game Changers honoree,” said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “Robert and his team at Detroit PAL are positively impacting thousands of young people in the city each year through an innovative approach to sport and its life-changing values.”
Jamerson’s road to working for Detroit PAL was not a traditional one. After attending Northwood University’s business school and lettering in baseball and football, he entered the world of pharmaceutical sales for more than 20 years. The transition to the nonprofit sector came after Jamerson and his wife adopted a baby boy, at just 2 days old.
“The Damascus moment for me was when I was out trying to save the world as a regional manager in pharmaceuticals. I came home and my son was already starting to crawl,” Jamerson said. “When I saw that, I decided to shift, and that’s how I ended up at PAL.
“I’ve always seen it as a gem of the community. PAL has been around 50-plus years and so much more can be done with the organization based on the ability for it to touch people, and the generational effect that sports and youth enrichment programming can have.”
Detroit PAL has been a fixture in the Detroit community since 1969. The organization’s mission is to Help Youth Find their GREATness. Whether through sports or enrichment programs, Detroit PAL is focused on providing opportunities for all youth to compete and grow.
“Sometimes you are born into a zip code, you are born into an environment, you are born into a family and with that, sometimes you don’t inherit the means to do certain things,” Jamerson said. “PAL may provide tutoring services or literacy-improvement services for someone that may not have been exposed to it, or the school they may go to may not have the time to dig into it. It is not saying that that child can’t do it, they just may not have been exposed to it.”
As CEO, Jamerson views his position as the “Chief Visionary Officer.” He believes that for Detroit PAL to carry out its mission, it must be the very best at three things: collaboration, addressing needs and training and development.
For collaboration, the focus is on getting families and youth in the same room and providing the skill sets and capabilities they need through partnerships. For example, Jamerson serves as the connector between Detroit PAL participants and Brilliant Detroit, a literacy service for youth up to 8 years old.
For its many outreach programs, the organization strategically addresses the needs of youth and their families, and then passionately serves those members of the community.
Detroit PAL has worked with Ashley Furniture’s Hope to Dream to provide unused mattresses and twin beds to Detroiters in need. It also teamed up with Meijer for a special community turkey donation giveaway in March.
“When it comes to things such as our bed giveaways, we work with organizations that can help to supply them, to then address a need that some of our families may have, when it comes to just the simplicity of having a bed to sleep in,” Jamerson said. “The turkey giveaways, we are the connector to identifying families that are most in need, so they can use those dollars for other necessities with their families.”
Training and development begin internally and extend to the mentors of Detroit PAL, ensuring they have the resources necessary to assist PAL participants in finding greatness.
“Those would be the three things that I’ve looked to do,” Jamerson said. “Then fill the gaps to connect people to the next employee or employer, intrapreneur or entrepreneur that causes Michigan, in particular, to thrive.”
Detroit PAL’s programming is rooted in sports. But the impact the organization makes away from the field of play is often far greater.
“It draws the people into the room. It draws other community partners into the room,” Jamerson said. “That then allows for awareness to come for those resources, for access to be identified, and then for utilization of those resources.”
Jamerson loves what he does, and his passion for the mission of Detroit PAL is profound. To Jamerson, being honored by the Tigers and Red Wings is a testament to the years of hard work and impact of everyone who contributed to Detroit PAL before him.
“I always believe that we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We drink from wells that we didn’t dig, and we’re in a critical position to now dig these wells for others to drink from,” he said. “Having the Red Wings and Tigers honor me for the work that I’m helping to lead, it also honors the team. It honors the community before me that put these things in place. It also provides the fuel to show that the work that we do — what we’re doing — is working. It’s paying off.”
As many nonprofits can attest, the largest struggle is getting individuals, funders, corporations and alumni to see the importance of the mission and how they can help “connect the dots.” Whether through monetary giving or giving of time or resources, Detroit PAL relies on the community in which it serves to invest.
To volunteer or learn more about the incredible work of Detroit PAL, visit DetroitPAL.org.