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First-of-its-kind youth town hall event with NFL helps students learn to become changemakers

Collette Smith posing with a group of students who attended the Black Changemaker Youth Town Hall.

Collette V. Smith, the first African American NFL female coach and founder of “Believe N You, Inc,” gathers with students for a group photo after sharing her words of wisdom and advice for the future. Photo courtesy ASU Educational Outreach & Student Services

February 20, 2023

The 2023 Super Bowl brought much more than football to the Valley of the Sun. More than 30 charitable activities and community outreach events enlivened and enriched the community in the weeks leading up to the game, promising to leave enduring legacies long after the game was played on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.

Included in those activities and events was ASU’s Black Changemaker Speaker Series: Youth Town Hall, wherein nearly 100 middle school students and their families were welcomed to Arizona State University’s West campus on Feb. 8 for an evening of motivation, empowerment and sports activities presented by Access ASU and Sun Devil Athletics, in partnership with the National Football League.

Embracing the excitement of Super Bowl week, the speaker series featured a lively panel discussion and a keynote address. Headlining the event were NFL history-makers Collette V. Smith, the first woman to join the coaching staff of the New York Jets in franchise history. Smith was also the NFL's first African American female coach. She appeared alongside Usama Young, an eight-year NFL veteran, Super Bowl 44 champion and philanthropist. Young is the NFL social justice liaison working with the league’s player engagement department to serve and educate current players, legends and their families.

The Black Changemaker Speaker Series highlights critical community conversations focused on career transition strategies to gain economic empowerment. Launched in the fall of 2021, the Youth Town Hall was the fourth presentation in the Black Changemaker series and the first youth town hall event.

“ASU was pleased to join with the NFL to present an inspirational and youth-centered dialogue for middle school students and a chance to hear firsthand from current and former athletes, business leaders and community advocates,” said Sharon Smith, vice president of outreach partnerships.

“Our goal was to create an experience that would help students learn what a changemaker is and how to take advantage of opportunities related to personal and professional development."

Collette V. Smith, who is only the third woman to coach in the NFL, founded and directs Believe N You Inc., which focuses on visiting public schools in underserved communities, to share her story of adversity and success and encourage young women and youth to believe in themselves.

The energy in the room was electric as Smith imparted sage words of wisdom and encouraged the youth to “keep your word and do the right thing."

"You deserve to be here living your best life,” she said.

The inspirational panel discussion was led by Scott Brooks, director of the Global Sport Institute, and featured ASU gymnast Cienna Samiley. Samiley shared how she’s been a changemaker at ASU connecting students and athletes to mental health and wellness resources.

The event also featured a junior quarterback course allowing youth to try seven challenging agility exercises. The NFL supplied backpacks, footballs, socks and hats for all attendees.

The Black Changemaker Speaker Series advances Access ASU’s efforts to increase access to higher education and prepare Arizona students for success through family engagement, strategic K–12 education and community partnerships. Access ASU’s programs and initiatives are designed to ensure all Arizona students graduate high school ready to thrive in college and the 21st-century workforce.

To learn more about college readiness programs and services, visit the Access ASU website.