In the early 2000s, many Metro Detroit youth would wake up on Saturday mornings to watch their favorite cartoons on WXYZ-TV, Channel 7. This is one of Jamar Bray’s fondest childhood memories, for more reasons than one.
As the founder of Jamar’s Jammies, Bray, 25 of Detroit provides pajamas for youth in Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Howell during the holiday season. Bray recalled running downstairs to watch the Detroit-inspired “Static Shock” animated series, in his pajamas – and even at a young age knowing that pajamas were a privilege.
“I knew the importance of having pajamas, I knew the importance of having warm clothes; especially when it’s cold here [almost] all the time,” says Bray. “I wanted [to give] something little but I knew I wanted to make a big impact.”
As Bray is preparing to wrap up pajama distribution, he still has the holidays on his mind. Starting in quarter one, Bray looks for sponsorships and donations for the nonprofit, building on the momentum for nearly 10 months – something he doesn’t take lightly.
“I feel that the more sponsors and donations [I receive], the more people I can reach,” says Bray. “Kids could have better Christmases in a lot of ways.”
Founded in 2018, Jamar’s Jammies is a play on Bray’s nickname from his Cleary University baseball team, “Jammy.” When the idea came to Bray, he planned to launch the following year, but after running it by his then-Cleary University President, Dr. Jayson Boyers, and Sr. Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Dr. Matthew Bennett, they formed other plans.
“They both went to work and all of a sudden I had donors and a community effort that wanted to support me,” says Bray. That year, Jamar’s Jammies collected 425 pairs of pajamas. In 2019, they collected 500 pairs.
Bennett says that innovation and entrepreneurship are in Cleary University’s DNA, so when Bray approached him and Boyers with the idea, they didn’t bat an eye.
“If we can do something to impact and serve those who support us in the communities that we educate, work and play – then we’re going to do that,” says Bennett.
In the first year, Cleary gained momentum for Jamar’s Jammies at their holiday celebration and tree lighting on the Livingston campus. After that, Bennett noticed that “things really aligned together,” referring to the impact their partnership had already made. “We [did] community outreach, but also [supported] Jamar and a lot of different audiences,” says Bennett.
“When it’s for the right reasons, we tend to act pretty quickly.”
While his alma mater was monumental in the launch and sustainability of Jamar’s Jammies, Bray also credits Lake Trust Credit Union, his immediate, baseball, and church family, and his mother, Onicena Jones.
Jones, 53, of Southfield, has gathered monetary and pajama donations and created her own network to promote her son’s nonprofit; whether it was sending a text to a friend, posting on social media or talking to other women at the beauty shop.
Jones says the moment her son told her he wanted to start Jamar’s Jammies, she was “emotional and shocked.” Bray had recently, and unexpectedly, lost both his father and maternal grandmother, who played major parts in his life; Jones says that not only was she proud of Bray, but she knew they both would be as well.
Bray says, 2021 was a record-breaking year. Jamar’s Jammies collected 700 pairs of pajamas, in less than two months; and though the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the growth of Jamar’s Jammies as he had fundraisers and location expansions planned, Bray says it has still allowed him to look on the bright side.
“People are appreciating the little things now, and pajamas are little but it does a lot,” says Bray. Jamar’s Jammies also delivers pajamas to the LACASA Center in Howell and the Park Ridge Community Center in Ypsilanti. Jamar’s Jammies has gained additional local media coverage and partnerships as the organization approaches its sixth year, Bray predicts an influx of donations.
This season, bins are at five locations: Greater Grace Temple, New 2 You Resale Boutique, the Oakland Reds Baseball Facility, Authentic Hair Design, All Fields Hitting Baseball Academy; in addition to partnerships with the Angels Project, Kids Kicking Cancer as well as Bally Sports Detroit, which featured Jamar’s Jammies in their on-air television tag lines.
Bray’s goal is for Jamar’s Jammies to expand, and both Jones and Bennett agree that should.
“It warmed my heart to see a Cleary University student athlete who wasn’t going to go professional in baseball, go professional in other areas. He became a professional in the area of service,” says Bennett. Bennett went on to say that he sees Jamar’s Jammies as a launchpad which can include scholarships, amplifying the program, and serve as many youth as they can. Jones would like to see Jamar combine his passions and create a mentoring program.
Prepared to meet challenges ahead, Bray and Jones reflect on how they adapted during the pandemic, and how the gap they’re filling doesn’t change.
“The momentum and the genuine feeling of knowing these pajamas are going to someone who needs them, it’s still there,” says Bray. “The process is different, but the mission is still the same.”
To donate to Jamar’s Jammies, visit jamarsjammies.com or email [email protected]
This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, a heightened awareness of racial injustice and inequality, issues of climate change, and more are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.