Two year's ago I sat on a plane in Washington State contemplating how I could bring a 3 on 3 basketball tournament to Charlotte, giving local students an opportunity to gain experience running a sporting event. I sat down with my mentor, who feeds me both physically and mentally, to share my idea. My mentor and her husband drilled me like my first training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base. I wasn't ready. The idea of providing opportunities was good but the method wasn't right yet. Fast forward past two failed attempts to eight months ago when I exchanged late night emails with Maria Taylor while we worked bowl games and this time the planets were aligned. This time I knew an idea would become action.
On Saturday, August 15, 2015 we officially launched The Winning Edge Leadership Academy at the Levine Museum of the New South. All eleven students who decided to take charge of their future were in attendance wearing the signature red and black of TWE (sorry Vol fans). Seven students met their mentors for the first time including Vanessa Taylor from Johnson & Wales who I will mentor this year. I couldn't be more excited about this day. Everything was perfect. We were fortunate to have amazing friends travel near and far to donate their talents conducting video mentor and student interviews. Charlotte's very own Mert's Heart & Soul donated a spread that had the room silent as people enjoyed their meal. Marcus Spears a.k.a the Big Swagu delivered a powerful message of living life with a purpose. We could not have asked for a better message for our students and mentors as they start their mentor relationship. Marcus' story before he won a BCS National Championship with LSU is one similar to some students sitting in that room. Circumstances should never dictate possibilities.
All this came together because people not only believe in our mission of breaking down barriers in the sport industry, but they believe in the work Maria and I have set forth to accomplish. Since the launch people have asked me when did I feel like it was real. I knew it was real when the mentors read the five characteristics of their student and each student stood up with a reaction as if they had been named MVP! That is what it all about for me, for Maria, for "The Squad." We want each student to feel empowered, to be excited about their future, and to represent progress.
Saturday was proof that with determination, a whole lot of faith, and an amazing support system a nonprofit can go from an email exchange to launch in eight months. I know that is not a typical timeline and we still have a lot of growing pains to experience but right now there are 11 young people believing that we are here to support them as they become tomorrow's leaders and we will not let them down.
Oh, and major salute out to all the mom's out there...