Justin Simmons Boys & Girls Club

Broncos Justin Simmons poses for a photo with Naja'Ray West (left) and Nashara Ellerbee (right) at the Broncos Boys & Girl Club on Saturday, June 12. 

When Nashara Ellerbee and Naja'Ray West first met Broncos safety Justin Simmons, they thought he was like any other athlete or celebrity who occasionally shows up or speaks at the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club. 

"We were in a Zoom and my opinion on it was he was a one-and-done. We're only going to see him one time," West said. "And then we came back the next week and we see him again — maybe they just made him do it. But then he came back again, and that's when I knew he was really committed.

"For me, Nashara and Justin to have the relationship that we have, it's so great because for a lot of famous people — you see them once and then you never see them again. Justin's here all the time and hears what we've got to say." 

Simmons has formed a close bond with Ellerbee and West — both 15-year-old members of the Boys & Girls Club  dating back to October when he spent eight weeks participating in the club's RISE program, which aims to empower the sports community to “eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.” Simmons has been one of the most involved and vocal Broncos players since the nationwide social justice protests took place last summer. 

The relationship he's built with Ellerbee and West was on full display Saturday, as hundreds of people showed up for their event "March For Peace." From star wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to new general manager George Paton — who ran the entire three-mile march — dozens of Broncos players and personnel showed up for Ellerbee's and West's event, which donated over 300 pairs of shoes to kids in need. 

"I don't know what you guys were doing at 15, but I definitely wasn't leading marches in my neighborhoods and thinking about what I can do for the betterment of my community," Simmons said. "This was all led by these two. ... All of it was led by them. I just said I'll be there and you guys will always have my support no matter what you're doing. It's just been a great relationship. 

"Nashara and Naja'Ray, they inspire me to be better. This is unbelievable. The turnout, the support — you guys are awesome."

Simmons said it's important to him to be there for kids like Ellerbee and West because they're the "next generation." They're the ones, he says, who will make real change in the world. 

"He's sort of like a big brother," Ellerbee said. "Like someone you can look up to. He's taught me so much about how I can make an impact in my community and be that 'next generation' to inspire change. It feels amazing to have his and the Broncos' support." 

Simmons, Ellerbee and West have more events like Saturday's planned — Simmons has no intentions of slowing down his work in the community after signing a four-year contract to stay in Denver for the long term. 

And while Simmons wants to take little credit for Saturday's March For Peace, it was his advice and words of encouragement months ago that has Ellerbee and West making a difference in their community. 

"The biggest lesson I've learned from him is don't hold back," West said. "If you want something, go get it. Justin showed me, hey, you've got to get going. It starts now and if you can start at 15, start at 15."

Load comments