It's no secret that for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an alumna of an NCAA D1 school. Now I know, post graduate degrees/programs don't necessarily count, but on February 22 2019, I got my wish and was in DC with some new friends of mine toasting the past year of our friendship and our accomplishment - completing the George Washington University Executive Sport Philanthropy Certificate program.
If you follow me on social medi
a, you would know that my journey there was not without some action. It took me 30+ hours to get to DC that included 3 cancelled flights, 2 delays, an overnight in Toronto, a run in with an ex, a seat next to a pilot (who gave me some unsolicited life advice that included being careful not to focus on my career so much that I forget to have a family), a two hour long security line, a customs mishap 10 minutes before my departure and a former student-athlete seat neighbour, who made the flight to DC a lot more enjoyable as we exchanged stories about entrepreneurship, athlete transition and the benefits of engaging alumni.
Boots on the ground in DC and I was off to GW to present the ins and outs of building a fund development and engagement program, meet the new 2019 cohort, see old friends and get to chat all things philanthropy with Master Gee – yes, as in the Sugarhill Gang, who is worth noting, was the best dressed guy in the room. He shared with us a common occurrence – you make it big, make a ton of money that you aren’t ready for and then lose it all. His takeaway, “The young you has to take care of the old you, and it’s not about how I live, its about how I lived - I want my legacy to be that I was a contributor to society.” There is that word again, legacy. There are a lot of stories like Master Gee’s – a lot of athletes, celebrities and successful individuals who lose it all, only to find out that money is never going to make you happy and solve your problems – it’s about the life you lived.
We then were off to DC Scores, an organization that creates neighbourhood teams that give kids in need the confidence and skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom, and in life. They do so through soccer and poetry – bet you didn’t see that combo coming. Their vision says it all: a DC where every child – no matter their family income – experiences the joys of childhood: sports, arts, service, and being part of a team. Where every child – no matter their family circumstances – is empowered to find academic success and grow into an emotionally and physically healthy teen and adult. Where every neighbourhood supports and celebrates its children and their accomplishments on and off the playing field. Wow, right?
Even though I was exhausted, slightly delirious with a bad cold aggressively taking over my body, I sat in that DC Scores office with a full heart and so excited about their work. Listening to Bethany Rubin Henderson - who by the way is fierce and insanely smarty - discuss the organization, the impact and how they pioneered its growth, it hit me real hard: this world of sport philanthropy that I have chosen is exactly where I need to be. It’s so incredibly important, our work is so important. It got me thinking about Relate and the work that we do – to be honest, I love most of it, but this was also an awakening to the fact that I have to make some shifts so that I love ALL of it.
Next up was a reception at Kaboom – an organization that inspires communities across the country to make it easier for all kids to get the play they need to grow up happy, resilient and ready for life. I loved their office, it’s so bright and fun and inspires play, which reminded us that we all need to play and particularly as adults, we forget to. So we played and worked up an appetite for a trip to Filomena’s,
which has now become a staple for our GW crew and I highly recommend it. Upon being greeted by nonnas hand making pasta in the window, I ignored the fact that I hardly had any taste buds and was the only one to finish my entire dish…
The remainder of the trip included the GW SINC Conference, where my highlight was hearing Kim Davis - Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs – speak about the role they created for her within the NHL. What is challenging the NHL’s growth? Aging, inefficient and insufficient infrastructure, nation-wide declines in youth activity, particularly team sports, and culturally issues, particularly based in race, gender and economics. Key opportunities? Millennials becoming new parents, diversity explosion changing how businesses operate on a community level and women as fans and ambassadors of the sport.
As a black woman named to a C Suite position with the NHL – Ms. Davis is a complete game changer, noting, “We need to be far more culturally sensitive” when discussing alignment with the changing demographics and intentional approach the NHL is taking. We often talk about the importance of representation, and she embodies that, dishing out similar advice I hear amongst athletes “skills and competencies are transferable. Don’t think that because you haven’t been in an industry means that you can’t be. The only thing stopping us is ourselves.” In short, Kim Davis is who I want to be when I grow up.
Just over two years ago, a Google search for ‘Sport Philanthropy’ returned the George Washington program. It took me a year to finally commit to the idea of going back to school - especially an American one - but I was so committed to the idea of using sport as a vehicle for philanthropy that I took a chance and invested in myself. Reflecting on what the past year at GW brought me, I am eternally grateful to have taken that chance. I have been able to experience sport philanthropy at its best, met amazing individuals, been mentored by wonderfully driven profs (Lisa Delpy Neirotti, Allison Hawk + Nicole Hawkins), but above all else, I gained a network and family who gets me. To be with like-minded individuals and discuss sport philanthropy ad nauseum is a gift to me because being an entrepreneur can be isolating, particularly when you are working in a space that is still quite undeveloped with not many professionals in the field!
Lately, I have been feeling a bit off track, so my three days in Washington were exactly what I needed. I met wonderful Twitter friends in real life, celebrated my graduation amongst friends, plotted our sport philanthropy domination, and most important - shared moments with wonderful, empowering, supportive women (and Alex, of course) who set my soul on fire.