The NFL draft proved to be a once in a lifetime experience for DBG 6th grader Ojni (pronounced AH-ja-NEE). Not only did the 12-year-old get to meet NFL draft hopefuls, pose for photos, and collect autographs, she received a surprise gift and the biggest surprise of all – she got to announce the fifth-round draft pick, number 25, on behalf of the Buffalo Bills in front of a sea of sports fans on the massive stage in Detroit’s Campus Martius Park.

Ojni announced the “Detroit Youth Sports Pick” along with Fred Hunter, CEO of Detroit PAL, Pat Sharrow, director of Project Play, and Kari Pardoe, program officer with the Ralph C. Wilson, Junior Foundation on day 3 of the draft, a day dedicated to celebrating the City of Detroit and local community initiatives. The late Ralph C. Wilson Junior is a former owner of the Buffalo Bills. The foundation is a longtime supporter of DBG.

Why did the middle school student find herself in Detroit’s NFL draft spotlight? Because of her passion for flag football and the transformative role of youth sports and out-of-school-time programming in her life. The high intensity game is just like gridiron football without the physical contact. Instead of tackling, flags are attached to the ball carrier’s belt and the defensive team must remove the flag to end a down. It’s one of the hottest and fastest growing sports for kids. Especially girls.

“Ojni is this amazing, super sporty girl who had never played sports because of her shyness,” said Asiyah Williamson, DBG’s associate director of enrichment. “[When first she came to DBG in 2020], I told her, you’re going to be my shadow until we get you out of your shell.”

The middle schooler has 11 brothers, 4 of whom played high school football. But she had always cheered from the sidelines. DBG inspired her to take a leap of faith and step onto the field herself, and she has blossomed ever since. Ojni is now a junior coach and the only middle school aged girl on DBG’s flag football team.

“Despite numerous options for how to spend her time at DBG, Ojni chose to invest herself wholeheartedly in the growth and development of our younger players,” Williamson added. “She has served as a guiding light, imparting wisdom and instilling confidence in those who have followed in her footsteps.”

Believing in herself, playing the game she loves, and coaching her peers, led to a whirlwind of amazing experiences during the NFL draft events in Detroit. The day before the draft, national nonprofit GENYOUth, the Detroit Sports Commission, the NFL, online platform Alltroo, and social media personality Jimmy Darts, teamed up to uplift female flag football players. When they learned about Ojni’s story, they invited her and her parents to a special Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL)/NFL event at the Corner Ballpark in Corktown. And that’s where the surprises began.

Ojni, her parents, and DBG’s founder and CEO Khali Sweeney were talking with Kyle Rudolph, former NFL player for the Minnesota Vikings and cofounder of Alltroo, an online platform that helps nonprofits ‘supercharge their fundraising efforts,’ when she was surprised with a cash award. DBG nominated her for the prize which was presented by Darts, a social media influencer with 12 million followers on TikTok, who is known for his random acts of kindness.

“I’m thankful that Ojni was considered for this opportunity,” said her mom, Victoria. “She created a memory that she’ll never forget, and she was able to see new possibilities for herself playing flag football. Really, she got to see her own potential to do whatever she wants to do.”

The 12-year-old wants to use some of the funds to help her family fix up their home. But there’s more. After receiving the gift, Ojni immediately thought of her community and helping others. She and her parents set off to a nearby Walmart with Darts where they approached random shoppers with cash gifts to “bless their day.” The shoppers, at first skeptical about what was happening, lit up with happiness and gratitude when they realized Ojni and Jimmy were doing something kind for total strangers.

“It felt good giving back,” Ojni said. “People are struggling, and I want to help out. It was a blessing.”

Ojni’s mom, who took in and is raising five children after she learned a relative was struggling with addiction, works tirelessly to support her family. She was full of gratitude for the generous gift and was moved by her daughter’s immediate instinct to pay it forward.

“At the end of the day, the real reward in gift giving is knowing you did the right thing,” she said. “I always want Ojni to know to do the right thing, and that’s what she did.”

“I’ve watched Ojni help girls on the elementary school team deal with similar struggles that she did and help them come out of their shells,” added Asiyah. “Having watched all of this happen, I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of this gift and this NLF draft experience.”


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