Mar 25, 2024

Honoring Black Excellence: Create with Purpose

Spotlighting nine phenomenal women from Black communities who are making a profound impact in the lives of others.
by Salimatou Berete-PerezEditor

Honoring Black Excellence (HBE) is an adidas initiative that pays homage to remarkable individuals from Black communities who are making a profound impact in the lives of others. In this chapter of the initiative, we proudly spotlight nine phenomenal women who are talented designers, passionate community architects, fierce activists, and dedicated wellness advocates. These women and their beneficiaries are: 

Wanda Cooper-Jones, The Ahmaud Arbery Foundation
Stephanie Smiley (“First Lady of the Drew League”) and Chaniel Smiley (Head Commissioner of the Drew League), The Drew League Foundation
Dr. Nikole Roebuck, The Grambling University Foundation
Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson, Eliya Jackson, Ashley Comeaux, Precious Hannah-King, and Kimberly Shane, The Black Talent in Design and Fashion Fund

Wanda Cooper-Jones, The Ahmaud Arbery Foundation: To honor the legacy of her son, Ahmaud Arbery, Ms. Wanda, as she is fondly called, founded The Ahmaud Arbery Foundation to create safe spaces for Black males between the ages of 10 and 18 to run freely while also receiving support and resources around mental and physical wellness.   

Stephanie Smiley (“First Lady of the Drew League”) and Chaniel Smiley (Head Commissioner of the Drew League), The Drew League Foundation: For 50 years, the Drew League has been using the basketball court to build camaraderie in the South-Central LA neighborhood of Watts; and for 39 of those years, Stephanie Smiley, her husband Dino, and their daughter Chaniel have been responsible for keeping the pro-am basketball organization running. 

Dr. Nikole Roebuck, The Grambling University Foundation: As the first female Band Director at the historically Black co-ed Grambling State University, Dr. Roebuck oversees the nationally celebrated Tiger Marching Band. She also works with the Grambling State Foundation to continue their efforts to provide a rich music education for their students. 

Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson, Eliya Jackson, Ashley Comeaux, Precious Hannah-King, and Kimberly Shane, The Black Talent in Design and Fashion Fund: Hailing from Miami, they are among the first Black women to design pioneering athletic sneakers for industry-leading brands that give representation to Black women in the footwear industry. In partnership with the Black Talent in Design & Fashion Fund, they are creating access for the next generation of Black designers. 

Together, these amazing women are creating with purpose to inspire meaningful and lasting change for future athletes and creators within the Black community. Learn more about how they’re changing our world at adidas.com/us/community.  

 

 Honoring Black Excellence 

This year through International Women’s Month and beyond, adidas, Teen Vogue, and its parent company Condé Nast will continue to elevate our honorees and their stories through the docuseries “Honoring Black Excellence: Create with Purpose.” The docuseries beautifully encapsulates the journey of profound sisterhood and the living legacy these women embody by leading with purpose and paying it forward to uplift the next generation of Black excellence. 

Within these videos, we not only witness the honoree’s remarkable journeys but also the lives they’ve touched within their communities - whether it’s a bandmate, a basketball player, or a mentee. 

I caught up with Senior Director of Purpose Ayesha Martin on her way to New York City to attend the adidas-hosted premiere of the docuseries “Honoring Black Excellence: Create with Purpose,” which celebrated our esteemed honorees. Our conversation shed light on the passionate souls propelling these projects forward and the impact of storytelling in inspiring and empowering future generations.  

Ayesha: At adidas, we acknowledge and honor the fact that the Black community’s role in sport, culture, and our brand is undeniably pivotal. That’s why, in 2019, we proudly launched Honoring Black Excellence (HBE) as an employee-led and brand-supported initiative that’s rooted in three fundamental pillars: 

  • Fostering growth in under-served youth through access to skill development, mentorship, and sports resources.  
  • Amplifying the voices of change-makers on our brand platforms and illuminating their positive community impact.  
  • Holding ourselves accountable for shaping a more inclusive narrative that challenges and dismantles harmful stereotypes and showcases the resplendent tapestry of Black excellence through powerful storytelling. 

With these pillars as our north star, I’m proud to say that our HBE programming guides several of our brand’s current endeavors. 


Ayesha Martin and Ms. WandaAyesha Martin and Ms. Wanda

Creating with Purpose 

Ayesha: Regarding our partnership with Teen Vogue and Tribeca Film, everything unfolded in beautiful alignment with our key thematic for this moment: creating with purpose. Our honorees and their stories provided a compelling opportunity to truly scale the reach of HBE beyond the grassroots community activations we’ve consistently co-created with them across the country.  

For us, authenticity and standing firm in our belief that this moment should be captured “for community by community” led us to partner with Teen Vogue and director Vashni Korin, a 2022 Tribeca Studios Queen Collective Director Program alum. We had the privilege of working with the best creatives who emulated the ethos of HBE. 


Fostering connection and community  

Ayesha: In 2023, we continued to collaborate with leaders in the creative industry and expanded into media partnerships- shifting from a traditional approach to one that centered around impactful narratives and served as a megaphone for our honorees.  

This year-long process of honoring and capturing stories has fostered a deeply connected and intentional community – from creatives to strategists, media planners to PR specialists, and event producers to mom-and-pop store owners – all rallying together to give these women their flowers while they’re here.  

At the very heart of all our purpose work is sustained community action. The story of our impact partners, honorees, and architects we co-create with is an important way to reclaim and recodify history. Memorializing the paths these incredible honorees are forging and enabling them to accelerate their missions through this platform is a small way to signal to the world that change is here and our stories matter.  

The Honoring Black Excellence: Create with Purpose film was directed by Vashni Korin, a Black American director with Puerto Rican and Caribbean roots whose cultural identity influences her auteurist gaze. She strives to unite her community through folklore, spirituality, and celebration, focusing on women’s experiences.  

Vashni shared her creative process and inspiration for this transformative film: 

Vashni: My approach to a documentary is to not only be a witness to the lives before me but an active participant. By forming a bond with the audience and protagonists, I strive to elevate them to heights beyond this realm. My goal as a filmmaker is to tap into the near future so viscerally that it becomes a reality. There’s always reality, what’s being perceived, and what we can imagine for our collective future. As I sat with the women of the series, understood their purpose work and day to day, I began envisioning scenes in my mind that would amplify their voices, goals, and community. 

I reflect on my time on set with Ms. Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, discussing the scholarship program she launched at Ahmaud’s former high school, and after reading the winning essay, there stood a strong pull on my heart. I envisioned the power of young men embodying Ahmaud’s spirit in the film and delivering the essay – ushering us into the tone of the piece, memory, reverence, and honor. The image of the young men behind her enforces that Ms. Cooper-Jones isn’t alone in her fight for justice for Ahmaud.  


The Power of Sisterhood 

Vashni: There’s a comfort and safety in speaking with your sister, one who understands your cultural nuances, highs, lows, and the things that stir you directly. What may feel like an interview becomes a living room salon chat with laughter, depth, and love. When we share our history with one another, we inch ourselves toward understanding our own lives. Things become clearer, and we move forward together. 

That is why support and sponsorship are so important. Both offer a platform for voices to be heard, enable us to reach wider audiences, and spread stories to our intended audiences. 

Congratulations to our honorees and their nominated beneficiaries: The Ahmaud Arbery Foundation, The Drew League Foundation, The Grambling University Foundation, and The Black Talent in Design and Fashion Fund.  


Stephanie Smiley; Ms. Wanda; Ashley Comeaux; Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson; Precious Hannah-King; Chaniel Smiley; Eliya Jackson; Kimberly Shane; Dr. Nicole RoebuckStephanie Smiley; Ms. Wanda; Ashley Comeaux; Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson; Precious Hannah-King; Chaniel Smiley; Eliya Jackson; Kimberly Shane; Dr. Nicole Roebuck

Share