On a scorching Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m., a group of high school students begrudgingly filed into Hampton University's football meeting room. The more than 30 students in attendance didn't seem particularly thrilled about having to attend the Hampton Roads Youth Foundation (HRYF) symposium on this hot summer day.
Christian Harris, a student from Bethel High School, admitted, "I came because my mother signed me up." Similarly, Marietta Thornton compelled her son, Gamyr, to attend the event, recounting his initial reluctance and quip about better things he could be doing.
However, despite the initial lack of enthusiasm, every student left the symposium with invaluable knowledge that will positively impact their lives. The symposium covered a diverse range of topics, with experts sharing insights on mental health, financial literacy, Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rights, and career experiences.
Dr. Thomas Skeeter from Milestones Mental Health shed light on mental well-being, while George Reynolds from Bank of America imparted financial wisdom. Brenden Hill, the NIL coordinator at San Diego State University, educated the students on the evolving landscape of NIL, and keynote speaker Kimberly Martin, joining via Zoom, shared her journey as an ESPN journalist.
Empowering Youth: Expanding Beyond Football
The Hampton Roads Youth Foundation, founded by Carl Francis Jr. and Vernon Lee Jr. in 1997, initially began as a football camp. However, recognizing the need for more comprehensive life guidance, the organizers introduced the symposium four years ago.
This year's event impressed both founders, who were delighted by the enthusiastic engagement between students and presenters. Frances, a Bethel High graduate and the Director of Communications for the NFL Players Association since 1994, observed, "You could see the kids getting excited and the parents being engaged.
When you have that type of feedback, you feel good that you're providing some good resources for kids in the community, and more importantly for the parents." Lee added, "That's what motivates us about the information we provide.
This is why Carl and I keep doing this every year." While many attendees initially had reservations, they left the symposium grateful for the knowledge they gained. Christian Harris, who plays soccer at Bethel High, appreciated the session on mental health awareness the most, acknowledging the importance of self-awareness and seeking support.
Gamyr Thornton was moved by Kimberly Martin's talk about her career journey, finding her relatability and achievements inspiring. Similarly, Camryn Spencer, the only female athlete present, valued the discussions on mental health and NIL, recognizing the significance of these topics for athletes.
Brenden Hill, who attended the HRYF football camp as a Warwick High receiver and now serves as the NIL coordinator at San Diego State, was delighted to return as a speaker, emphasizing the camp's lasting impact on his life.
Corey Lee, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend the symposium with his nephew, commended the event's diverse content and found it valuable for preparing his nephew for the challenges ahead. Marietta Thornton, who actively participated by taking notes and asking questions during the symposium, expressed her gratitude, stating, "There was a ton of knowledge here and I really enjoyed it.
To know that there are other people besides me who have his back, it made me feel really comfortable." As the symposium drew to a close, Gamyr left with a smile, remarking, "I learned about mental health and how to manage your money, and just about life in general.
I'm really happy I came." The Hampton Roads Youth Foundation's symposium had successfully ignited a desire for learning and personal growth among the attending athletes, leaving a lasting impact on their lives and fostering a sense of support within the community.