What Cleveland’s professional sports teams do on and off the playing surface matters to the community. Kevin Clayton, senior vice president, head of social impact and equity for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Rock Entertainment Group, says, “all our sports teams hold a special place in the hearts of the community, and especially the Cavs because of their 2016 NBA Championship.”
With that love and idolization comes a responsibility, says Clayton, who grew up in Cleveland and Shaker Heights but pursued careers elsewhere for 35 years. He returned to his hometown and the Cavs in 2019 to start the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) team. In 2022, his position was elevated to his current title.
“The values of the Cavs always meant that we were community partners. We wanted to be relevant to all communities. Being relevant means looking at us as leaders helping to elevate all communities,” says Clayton.
The Cavs have joined forces with local government, nonprofits and the business community on several successful programs and events to reach that goal. Hoops After Dark is a partnership program with the mayor and combines basketball with employment opportunities and wraparound services for young Black men. Taste of Black Cleveland: The Food Showcase raises scholarship money to elevate exposure for Black-owned restaurants, and Pride Night generates money for LGBTQ nonprofits by providing exposure to the community and economic opportunities. The Cavs have also partnered in promoting CentroVilla25, a new market and social destination for Cleveland’s Latinx/Hispanic residents and visitors.
“I understand what my life’s purpose is through my faith. I make sure to stay humble and operate from a giving perspective. I am absolutely a servant leader,” says Clayton, who this fall was inducted into the Shaker Heights School System Alumni Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 1977.
But Clayton, who has four adult daughters and was raised by his great-grandmother, grandmother and mother, steps to the front when needed. He is on the leadership team of CL3 (Three Team Alliance) that includes members of the Cavs, Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Guardians. The group strives to unify Cleveland through transformational social change in the areas of law enforcement, education and civic engagement. In addition, this past March, Clayton was named board chair of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland.
Clayton has endured “some significant setbacks and challenges” in his life, but says he has “not only come through those storms,” but is a better person and able to share his physical and mental scars with others. A horrific bicycle accident when he was 13 temporarily stopped Clayton’s basketball playing dreams and could have left him without the use of one arm altogether.
“Once upon a time, I would have hidden my scars. But now I tell people about the accident, not because I want them to think how great I was to get through it, but the accident changed my life. I knew I needed a level of determination and had to be a survivor,” says Clayton, who now likes to scuba dive and chase sharks (really!), skydive, jump off cliffs and ride a horse he keeps in Las Vegas. “Growing up in Cleveland grounded me with a strong sense of community and service. We have many people and organizations in Northeast Ohio that need help and support. In my role with the Cavs, I have the opportunity to merge my personal values with our team values and extend our platform to help those in need, which will help strengthen our city.”