Dhani Jones’ contacts are a who’s who in the sports, entertainment and business worlds, and he’s called on them as a philanthropic ambassador for Stand Together, a national organization dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty in this country.
Jones, the former Michigan linebacker who played on the 1997 national championship team and went on to a 10-year NFL career, was known as the Wolverines’ renaissance man with interests in just about everything, from music and art to making a difference with charitable works. He went on to create the BowTie Foundation to raise funding for underprivileged youth, was host of the Travel Channel show “Dhani Tackles the Globe,” and more recently started Detroit-based Petram, a data analytics firm.
That he wanted to do something to help those less fortunate during the COVID-19 pandemic is simply part of his nature. Stand Together and the Family Independence Initiative partnered to launch #GiveTogetherNow (givetogethernow.org) which has, so far, raised nearly $44 million nationally and given $500 each to more than 87,000 families in need.
“(Former Michigan football coach) Lloyd Carr always said, ‘It's not about you, it's about something greater than yourself,’” Jones said in a phone interview with The Detroit News. “I continue to think that way.”
Jones is the host of Stand Together Live on Instagram featuring lively conversations with athletes and celebrities to raise money for #GiveTogetherNow. He has interviewed DJ D-Nice, former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson East, chef Andrew Zimmern, TV host Tracey Edmonds, basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman and former Wolverine and current Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham, among many others. The shows appear weekly (check Jones' Instagram @d0057 for upcoming guests).
“Stand Together Live brings together athletes, actors, influencers to give people nuggets of hope and inspiration and an opportunity to sort of step away,” Jones said. “It’s kind of how athletes step away in the world of sports, right? They go into the stadium and then all of a sudden they’re in a completely different mindset. It’s the same type of thing. How do we bring people together so that they can hear another person's story? And how can they take some of these nuggets of hope? How can they take some of these nuggets of truth and apply them to their daily life?
“Jimmy Chin, he is arguably one of the greatest filmmakers (Academy Award winner and professional climber). He's alone on the mountain a lot, so I asked him, ‘How do you deal with isolation?’ Brandon Graham came from the streets of Detroit, and then all of a sudden he's playing for the Eagles and he made the Super Bowl-saving tackle against Tom Brady. How do you deal with pressure-filled situations? This is where you're allowing people to kind of remove themselves from their house into this world and you can translate that to transform your life into something different as a result of being home. Instead of thinking to yourself, ‘I'm never going to get out of here.’ Think to yourself, ‘How do I become better once I get out of here?’”
Families eligible for the cash donations from #GiveTogetherNow are vetted by Stand Together. The original goal was to raise $10 million — 100% of what is raised is given to those in need.
Jones is a natural fit in this interview setting for the rapid-response effort. He is funny, clever and amiable.
“I think all of us are doing something, hopefully, to help,” Jones said. “There's no excuse for not doing anything. Even if you have nothing, you can wave and say hello to someone walking down the street because that goes a long ways. And some of us have been fortunate enough to be blessed with more than most, and our responsibility, I feel, is greater.
“So I appreciate the opportunity to be a conduit for storytelling, because stories are what take people away. Stories are also the way that people learn. And while we're taking people away, we're also allowing people to learn about an amazing organization that's really affecting change. There’s like a triangulated approach. You're hearing this, you're hearing a story, raising awareness, you're potentially giving money, you're potentially contributing kindness and you're potentially receiving $500.”
That’s why Jones became involved in #GiveTogetherNow and why he wants to stay with the program long after this pandemic.
“We want Stand Together Live to reach as many people as possible, but we also realize that Stand Together Live is the facilitator, and there's a lot of people that are doing good in this world," he said. "There's a lot of people that have unique gifts. There's a lot of people that understand the power of community, they also understand the power of win-win scenarios, that it's about you lifting other people up.
“Everybody wants to know more stories. People don't stop reading books. People don't stop consuming content. People don't stop looking for motivation. People don't stop looking for inspiration. People don't stop giving. We continually give as we continually evolve our own empathy and our own humility.”
Jones is running Petram and, like many other businesses affected by the stay-at-home orders, he is trying to make all of this work. He is using something from football — recover, regroup, refocus — to navigate this new normal.
He credited his time at Michigan to opening his eyes to being charitable and giving and finding ways to help.
“Going to Michigan, you come out different,” he said. “And even if you were philanthropic before you went into Michigan, it's evident through so many different things that Michigan has been able to provide for so many people. Whether it's Mott Hospital or the Griese-Hutchinson fundraiser or ChadTough, there's just so many different things that Michigan has been affiliated with in the non-profit world that as a player, one of the first things that you realize is it’s not about you. It's about something greater than you.
“You go play for the University of Michigan, it’s not about you as a player, it’s about the University of Michigan and the Wolverines as a team. That gets baked into your core DNA. If you talk to anybody that went to Michigan, everybody comes out and they understand the power of philanthropy and about the greater good. I think that's the power of our university. It's the power of our community and what we stand for. There’s a meme of someone pulling a group up. And people look at that as one way of leadership. The other way to look at leadership is you're underneath holding people up. That’s the Michigan way, to lift people up, and that’s what I'm part of.”