In April, Seattle partnered with Microsoft, WHOLE Mentoring and the BE Project for a one-of-a-kind Historically Black College and University (HBCU) tour experience. Sixteen young Black men participating in Seattle Public School's African American Male Achievement program got the opportunity to tour six Black colleges, including a surprise visit from Seahawks star linebacker Bobby Wagner. Two weeks ago, the Seahawks released a 15-minute documentary, chronicling the week-long journey to visit Norfolk State, Virginia State, Virginia Union, Hampton, Howard and the University of District of Columbia. On Tuesday, the young men and their families were invited to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center for the official documentary release party - a night filled with fun and surprises that the youth won't forget anytime soon.
The group of young men arrived Tuesday night with their parents, dressed for the occasion. Sporting collared shirts and pressed pants, the young men from a range of area high schools like Rainier Beach, Franklin and Cleveland hit the red carpet before watching themselves in the short documentary. Linebacker Bobby Wagner came to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on his off day, bearing surprise gifts and ready to share why this experience was a life-changing one for him as well. Seattle's community engagement team, spearheaded by community engagement manager Kyle Dougherty and VP of community engagement and Legends Mario Bailey, decorated the lobby with portraits of the tour group through various stops. Visitors munched on catered brisket sandwiches and soul food from local treasure Emma’s BBQ, along with popcorn and snacks while snapping photos on the red carpet.
Bailey and Dougherty ushered the group inside the auditorium to watch the documentary, where linebacker Bobby Wagner awaited the group to say some words before the film began. Meeting the youth on the tour and speaking to Howard's football team was just the tip of the iceberg for the Utah State alum. Before going to Howard for his first Black-college experience, Wagner shared his respect and adoration for Black colleges by wearing different apparel - from Morehouse to Clark Atlanta to Howard.
After several years of supporting from a distance, Wagner got the chance to meet the group on the final day of the tour and speak to Howard's football team about defying the odds. And the experience was life changing for Wagner, who joined the group in navigating Howard's campus, meeting esteemed actress and Dean of the Chadwick Boseman College of Fine Arts, Phylicia Rashad. The experience on Howard's campus had a lasting impression on Wagner, who announced at the documentary premiere that he'd be heading to Howard in January to pursue his Master's in Business Administration (MBA) to the delight of many in attendance. Wagner discussed planning out continuing his education while balancing his football career.
"Deciding I wanted to meet the presidents and meet the dean," said Wagner. "And just trying to figure out how to make it work obviously, because I have a day job. My major in college was business, but I'm getting my MBA. Hopefully, starting this January."
After watching the documentary, Dougherty led a panel on the stage featuring Blacks at Microsoft Chair (Grambling State alum) La Shanda Hurst, Seattle Public Schools Program Coordinator William King, AAMA Program Coordinator Kelvin Dankwa and several youth participants. Dougherty led the discussion with a range of topics, from learning more about the HBCU experience, picking the right school for you and breaking out of your comfort zone. Hurst informed the youth of her journey of moving from the Pacific Northwest to the rural south to attend Grambling at the request of her late father, knowing the school would look after his daughter as he fought through terminal cancer.
The young men were given raffle tickets before the documentary premiere, for which winners were rewarded with autographed Wagner jerseys. After playing some family games, the young men were ushered back to the building's lobby, where Wagner left them a surprise of a lifetime. During the tour, Wagner took the shoe sizes of each youth participant, and on Tuesday evening, the Jordan Brand-endorsed Wagner left each young man with a pair of Air Jordan sneakers, varying in make and color. The boys gloated to their parents and friends, snapping pictures with their limited Jordan 1s and 2s gifted by the 12-year veteran.
Wagner has taken a special interest in the group, committing to being a resource beyond the trip. In July, Wagner took the young men on his "Tackle Everything Tech Tour", with stops at BOEING's 737 factory in Renton. The HBCU tour may have concluded, but the impression on every participant is lasting. The youth have broadened their horizons on educational possibilities across the country, and Wagner has done the same. During the stop at Howard, Wagner was asked if he would have chosen to go to an HBCU looking back to his time as a high school senior in 2008.
"I think if I knew it was an option," said Wagner. "I would have."
Now, Wagner's dream of gaining the Black college experience will come true, while the 16 young men of AAMA now have a new outlook on Black colleges and the world outside of their comfort zone here in the Pacific Northwest.
More than a dozen local young Black students participating in the WHOLE Mentoring program took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to tour six Historically Black Colleges and Universities on the east coast in partnership with the Seahawks, Microsoft and The BE Project.