SCSD Students Inspired by Alumna at ‘Know Your Worth’ Event
Published on 11/16/21
District News Dr King Elementary School HW Smith K-8 School Nottingham High School
“I will be the best version of me,” young women in the HW Smith auditorium chanted together.
They turned to the girl to their left.
They turned to their right.
They pointed to themselves and said again, “I will be the best version of ME!”
Young women across the Syracuse City School District recently enjoyed an inspiring morning of empowerment, thanks to a special ‘Know Your Worth’ event.
Held in person for HW Smith middle school students, young ladies from STEAM at Dr. King and Nottingham tuned in live on Microsoft Teams. The students were joined by a special guest speaker – former Syracuse University basketball player, Nottingham alumna, and acclaimed women’s basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack. Coach Jack was surprised with a recognition from Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh just before she spoke with the students about the importance of owning their own voice and becoming the best version of themselves.
Organized by SCSD Director of Student Registration Akua Goodrich, the idea behind the event was to help inspire the young women to find – and pursue – their dreams.
“I knew right away that we had to provide an opportunity for [Coach Jack] to pour into the hearts and minds of female students,” Ms. Goodrich shared. “It was literally life-changing. Coach Jack is one of the most humble, beautiful, insightful and precious people you would ever want to meet. Our girls need and deserve that type of encouragement each and every day of their lives!”
Students watched a video highlighting Coach Jack’s basketball and coaching careers, and then heard a keynote address from the Coach herself, who attended via Teams.
“I’ve sat in the same chairs you’re sitting in,” Coach Jack started. “I’m really proud of every single one of you. I wanted to talk about how cool you are.”
Ms. Jack highlighted the ways attending public school benefitted her and her family, noting how the free breakfast and lunch that were provided to she and her siblings helped relieve a stress on her mother, a single mom with five children to provide for. She spoke of her motivation: making things easier for her mother.
“I realized I was in a great place to take something off the table for my mother,” she explained. “I said: I’m going to be a good person. I want to be the teacher’s helper. I want to do my homework on time and I won’t sneak out at night. I did those little things, and then I wanted to do more.”
Coach Jack spoke of her passion for basketball, which developed from the time she picked up a ball in her driveway in 5th grade while watching her brothers play. She was soon invited to join a team, and ultimately – slowly – realized her own potential, quietly dreaming of earning a college basketball scholarship. After being recruited for the Nottingham Varsity basketball team in just 8th grade, she felt like she was on her way.
“My head was still down – I didn’t have confidence. I wish I could see you all because I want to ask that question: who doesn’t have confidence in themselves? I’m certain there are some hands that want to be rasied: saying I don’t have confidence at this age. I didn’t have it either. But all these people believed in me, so I started secretly believing in myself.”
The coach shared how her family’s priority on academic achievement helped her achieve her dreams, noting that she wouldn’t have received a scholarship to Syracuse had she not also been a strong student.
“I see you in that audience and I see that you’re thinking about your dreams and your desires and if they’re a possibility,” she said. She spoke of becoming the first woman whose athletic jersey was retired at Syracuse University – the first woman in 50 years. “I just wanted to be the best version of myself… the best, most authentic Felisha Legette at the time. I didn’t want my mom to have to worry about me. But this honor is bigger than myself. It’s exciting for me to know that you all are seeing a woman - who was a girl - who had a dream - who continued to believe in that dream - and it became something bigger than she could have ever imagined.”
“This honor isn’t just for me,” she continued. “It’s for that little girl who has hope and who doesn’t have confidence. It’s for her to say: if she can do it, I know I can do it. My only hope is that you become better than me. We come from the same place. We walk the same hallways. It wasn’t always fair or right, but we stay in the race. If I can do it, you can, too. I’m humbled and so excited for the future of young people. Your time is now. You matter! And guess what? You are worth it.”
Students had an opportunity to ask Coach Jack questions, touching on why she chose to become a basketball coach (a knee injury) to her favorite subject in school (English), something she wish she knew when she was in 8th grade (the most successful people become accustomed to failure and use it to persevere), her key to success, challenges she has overcome and more.
One of the most poignant moments of the event came when Nottingham student Sierra Saggus asked what Ms. Jack believes to be the most pressing issue facing girls and young women right now. The Coach lowered her head, paused, and then looked back up.
“We put our head down,” she stated. “We don’t think that we matter. We hope that someone will see us. Our eyes have to be lifted! I wasted so many years hoping someone would notice what my dreams were and I never told anyone. We don’t need to wait anymore. People don’t notice us because we don’t demand that they see us. Girls and women can articulate very well. We need to say: I, too, matter. Once we speak about what we think we deserve, we are going to be in positions where we are going to save the world. We have to believe that our time is right now. We’ve got to take care of each other and rise to the top!”
The girls all stood to applaud Ms. Jack. Then, they recited again:
“I will be the best version of me. Not you. Not you. Me!”
Ms. Jack touched her heart, adding, “Go forward. Be great. I see your future being amazing!”