Last year, Berj Najarian took a step out of his comfort zone and into the spotlight “to raise awareness for Armenians under attack.” The support Najarian received was swift and passionate. The winning bid for his sneakers last year was the highest since the NFL established the My Cause My Cleats campaign.
This set the groundwork for Najarian to take his activism a step further. Najarian announced the launching of Who We Are, an organization that will support those who are committed to preserving, creating, learning, and sharing cultural identity.
While for Najarian that cultural identity is Armenian, Who We Are is a multi-cultural initiative that will celebrate people's uniqueness and similarities.
"Culture is a lot of things. It's values, language, art, music, sports, architecture, food, traditions, and customs. It is science and innovation. So it could be different things to different people," Najarian said. "Our aim is to support organizations and individuals committed to preserving, understanding cultures, theirs or others'. That's where we feel the connection and unity will come from in our communities."
Being an Armenian-American is foundational to why Najarian wanted to start Who We Are. The Armenian Genocide killed more than a million Armenian people between 1915 and 1922. Cultural identity for Armenians around the world is a point of pride and an act of survival.
Through conversations as a team about racial and social injustices over the last two years, Najarian recognized common themes regarding human rights, self-determination and justice. He saw people from all backgrounds come together to support one another and was able to educate the team about Armenians. After the murder of George Floyd, players and coaches shared their experiences of living as Black men and dealing with racism in the United States. Chris Mattes shined a light on issues facing Native communities through his friendship with Lyle Thompson and support of his family's non-profit.
Seeing these connections play out between people from different cultures, traditions, and heritages in the locker room was part of what motivated Najarian to create Who We Are.
"Everyone has a story about who they are, where they came from and where they are going. That's what Who We Are is about and a lot of it stems from the special environment within our team and organization." he said. "It is a testament to how much can be accomplished when people are willing to listen, learn and act on behalf of others."
The launch of Who We Are coincides with My Cause My Cleats, and Najarian is again wearing custom sneakers with a purpose. One shoe is an homage to his Armenian heritage, including smiling Armenian children, an eternity symbol very prominent in Armenian designs, and notably to Najarian, an image of Mount Ararat within the Armenian coat of arms. Above the mountain is a symbol representing the iconic biblical ark's final resting place. "Yes, that ark," Najarian said, referring to Noah's Ark.
The other shoe represents the broader mission of Who We Are, with the words "Who We Are" inscribed in as many languages as could fit on one shoe, including Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Thai, and others.
"Who We Are exists to help advance cultural identity and connections between diverse people who make incredible contributions to the world. We think it's a great way to simultaneously carry on legacies and help create new ones."
For the sixth straight season, the New England Patriots are participating in the NFL's 'My Cause My Cleats' campaign, which gives both players and coaches the opportunity to wear cleats that are designed to promote a cause important to them. Here's a look at the Patriots' custom cleats.