Beyond the Game: Leveraging the Power of Sport to Empower Communities of Color
From Serena Williams paving the way for athletes everywhere to Lebron James’ investment in the pioneering I Promise School to Colin Kaepernick’s courageous stand against police brutality, athletes are leveraging their platforms to inspire change within their communities. This panel will address the current role of the athlete and the myriad ways that athletes and sport impact society.
Collette V. Smith
President of Believe N You, Inc. & Former NFL Coach
Collette V. Smith is the Founder and President of Believe N You, Incorporated and the NFL’s 1st African American Female Coach in History by way of being the 1st Female Coach in NY Jets Franchise History, Coaching the Defensive Backs in 2017.
She is also a former Women’s Professional Football Player, Coach and the Director of Marketing, PR, Promotions and Events for the New York Sharks in two Women’s Professional Football Leagues, the WFA and IWFL.
Collette has always had a true LOVE of Football but there were no programs she was aware of for women, until she heard about THE NY SHARKS, Women’s Pro Football Team and tried out for the team in 2011 as a 42 Year Old Woman. She made the team and after three years of being a player and then having to undergo double knee surgery which ended her football career she was asked by the Owner of the NY Sharks to coach her position, the Defensive Backs…she accepted.
Shortly thereafter she was also appointed to be their Director of Marketing, PR, Promotions and Events. In a week’s time Collette was sitting at the CBS News Station with the Sports Anchor being interviewed on television regarding women in football and her NY Sharks and has had many other networks respond to her efforts including NY1 News, Fox 5, PIX 11 News, Brooklyn 12 News, Verizon Fios and countless local stations, print media and blogs. Due to Collette’s efforts, Ashton Kutcher’s company, ‘A Plus’ featured the NY Sharks in a campaign to bring awareness to Lupus.
Collette as a child used to watch football games with her dad and recalls in particular the games between The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys rivalry! Her favorite team was the New York Jets though, so when asked by the NY Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles to be one of his Coach Interns for their 2017 Training Camp she jumped at this opportunity knowing that it would help level the playing fields for girls and women around the world as the 1st Female Coach in NY Jets Franchise History, the 3rd Female Coach in the NFL and the NFL's 1st African American Female Coach.
Smith is currently on the executive staff for the WNFC (Women’s National Football Conference) as the Director of Government and Community Relations and has created a National Partnership with the Salvation Army with the WNFC’s 15 teams across the country. The WNFC is a new Women’s Professional Football League that creates and fosters an environment for female athletes to sustain healthy lifestyles through playing, coaching and participating in American Football at the Highest Level for women. The League’s purpose, principals, and plans are rooted in creating the development of the most pristine women’s football product in the world.
Collette is an entrepreneur specializing in motivational speaking engagements through her company Believe N You, Inc. where she visits public schools as often as possible to empower and inspire our youth and has also been invited to speak at major corporations and Ivy League Institutions including Columbia and Tuskegee University to speak on disparities women in sports face and the empowerment of black youth, girls and women to see their greatness and excellence through adversity. She was recently Honored and Keynoted The Islip Town Branch NAACP’s Legacy Gala January 19th, 2019.
Nzingha Prescod CC ‘15
2x Olympian & World Champion Fencer
Nzingha is a two-time Olympic fencer and multiple time World Champion. Most recently, last July she and her team captured Team USA’s first-ever World Championships gold medal for the foil discipline. A Brooklyn native, Nzingha became the first African-American woman to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships when she claimed bronze in 2015. She has ranked as high as #5 in the world and qualified for the London Olympic Games at just 19. In 2016, she returned to the pinnacle of fencing competition in Rio at 23 where she finished 11th.
Prescod started fencing at nine years old at the well-regarded Peter Westbrook Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing the art of fencing to the under-served youth of New York. Prescod displayed an extraordinary talent for the sport at a very young age. By the age of 15, Prescod was ranked in the top five of the Senior division, among the nation's elite of her discipline. She continued her dominance on the world stage, becoming a four-time World Champion at the Cadet and Junior levels. Simultaneously, Nzingha became a graduate of New York City's highly acclaimed Stuyvesant High School. She then continued her education at Columbia University, where she graduated with a degree in political science with a concentration in race and ethnicity.
Continuing the legacy of the Peter Westbrook Foundation, Nzingha spends her Saturday mornings as a volunteer instructor. Nzingha attributes her athletic successes to the high-caliber opportunity presented by the Foundation and she hopes to expand the demographic of who has access to high ROI sports, like fencing, in the near future. She is currently working as a part-time consultant at Ernst & Young, while training for the next Olympics in Tokyo.
Director of Programs at the Jackie Robinson Foundation
Damian Travier, Director of Programs, Jackie Robinson Foundation joined the organization in September of 2006. Damian has over 17 years’ experience in the education, non-profit, and corporate sectors. Prior to his work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Damian served as Director of Leadership Development Curriculum at Prep for Prep and as Senior Program Manager for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF).
Damian has created, refined, and executed numerous programmatic initiatives including an annual Professional Development and Leadership Conference, a Corporate Internship Program, an International Travel Fellowship, and a National Mentorship Program. He's also had the opportunity to develop strategic relationships with senior level corporate executives and elected officials. Damian has spent his professional career working at the intersection of corporate engagement, leadership development, diversity, recruiting, and partnership building. He has served as Manager for the New York City Partnership (Chamber of Commerce) in Manhattan and as Youth Development Director for an inner-city housing development during his time as a VISTA Volunteer.
Damian has been a board member for numerous organizations and partnerships including the White House Initiative on HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and the Syracuse University Mentor Mentee Association (SUMMA). He is currently a member of the board of directors for Democracy Prep Charter School in New York City. Damian attended Syracuse University where he received a BA in Sociology and an MBA from the Whitman School of Management. He is also a youth mentor and participates in local sports leagues.
Pamela Wheeler (Moderator)
Sports Management Faculty at Columbia’s School of Professional Studies
Pamela Wheeler is a woman of firsts. She was the first woman appointed to lead a professional sports union, was the founding Director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) and negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in women’s professional sports.
As founding Director, Ms. Wheeler created the organizational infrastructure of the WNBPA and was responsible for improving the lives of professional women basketball players both on and off the court. Whether through collective bargaining, establishing programs for players or developing alternative income sources, she consistently implemented strategies that resulted in significant advances for WNBA players. She successfully led multiple CBA negotiations, culminating in the establishment of (i) minimum salary increases of 75% for rookies and 100% for veterans; (ii) year-round medical, maternity and retirement benefits; (iii) a landmark system of free agency; (iv) player controlled group license marketing rights; (v) player revenue sharing and (vi) a flexible salary cap system. Under her leadership player benefits, salaries and resources increased by 300% from 1998 to 2014.
In addition, Ms. Wheeler consistently worked to enhance the working conditions and social welfare of WNBA players both during and after their playing careers. To that end, she implemented and administered a myriad of Association and joint labor/management programs, including anti-drug, graduate school tuition reimbursement, career assessments & apprenticeships, financial planning and Rookie orientation.
Prior to the WNBPA, Ms. Wheeler was the Director of Business Development for the Continental Basketball Association, where she finalized stalled negotiations with New Line Cinema to create a national branding platform based on merging sports and entertainment. Before that, she served as General Counsel & Marketing Manager at Bob Woolf Associates, creating sports and entertainment marketing programs for institutional clients and negotiating marketing agreements for athletes.
She earned a BA from Dartmouth College and a JD from Boston University. She has been profiled in a number of traditional and sports publications, including the Sports Business Journal, “Game Changer,” Sports Illustrated, 101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports, Black Enterprise, 50 Most Powerful Blacks in Sports and Essence Magazine, Powerful African American Women.