NFL’s first Black female coach shares her story with Southfield high school students

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – In 2017, Collette V. Smith made history on the sidelines, becoming the first Black woman to coach in the NFL and the first woman to coach in the New York Jets franchise.

Thursday, Smith shared her story of breaking barriers with some eager students at Bradford Academy in Southfield.

“You’ve got the power to do what you want to do, but you’ve got to work for it,” said Smith to an auditorium of juniors and seniors.

Senior Michaela Lowery says she needed to hear those encouraging words. Months ago, she went to Shawanna Vaughn, the founder, and CEO of nonprofit Silent Cry Inc., asking for a mental health event.

During the 2021-2022 school year, Silent Cry Inc. donated clothing, hygiene packs, and shoes to students.

“We need tools to get to where we want to be, and we need people to show us, ‘Oh, hey, I came from here, so you can do it too,'” said Lowery.

Tools like mentoring and mental health support aren’t always found in the classroom. Vaughn ended up helping the students in a big way.

“I said, sure, and I galvanize my friends from New York because my nonprofit is based in Harlem,” said Vaughn. “And we came to make a difference because kids are not the future. They are the right now.”

One of those friends she called was Smith.

“It was an easy yes, a hard yes for me,” said Smith. “Our children need empowerment. Our children need inspiration.”

Smith was one of many panelists in attendance Thursday (Sept. 22).

The goal is for the words Smith and so many others shared to expose students to endless possibilities and remind them it’s not always where you start but where you finish.

“I want our children to know not to sit back and wait for opportunities,” Smith said. “You create the opportunity. It’s about creating it. You have to believe in yourself to do that.”

Lowery reflects on the wisdom Smith shared and said, “I can definitely get my foot out there. And like she (Smith) said, like, by her having a big mouth, that’s what put her in that position. I’m like, ‘Okay, well, I need to speak up more.'”

Other panelists include representatives of state and federal officials, local activists, and community leaders.

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