Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was famous during the team’s run to its Super Bowl title in 2014 of asking, “Why not us?” as the team sought to beat the odds and achieve greatness. Alongside his wife Ciara, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, the pair asked high school teens Friday, “Why not you?”
The catchphrase happens to be the name of the couple’s foundation, and at the Tukwila, Wash., branch of the King County Library System, select students from nearby Foster High School heard a message of education, setting goals and achieving dreams.
The Why Not You Foundation announced, in partnership with KCLS, KCLS Foundation and JPMorgan Chase, a new teen empowerment campaign called Dream Big: Anything is Possible. It encourages students to utilize programs and resources through community libraries and immerse themselves in STEAM education, homework help, mentoring, coding classes, ESL support SAT prep and more.
In front of a 40 or so kids who had no idea who the celebrity guests would be until they walked out, Wilson and Ciara spoke about who and what inspired them as kids, and what tools they relied on to make it in sports and entertainment.
“Very successful people don’t just ask the question, but they also figure out the answer to the question,” Wilson said, repeating the mantra “Why not you?” that he heard from his father growing up. And he added that “dreaming big” is visualizing where you actually want to go in life.
Wilson and Ciara also unveiled one-of-a-kind library cards featuring their likenesses, designed by Seattle-area artist Keegan Hall. Hall is known for his photo-realistic pencil drawings of sports figures and more, and was profiled by GeekWire in 2016.
Furthermore, the couple announced a $100,000 Why Not You scholarship, with a search and plans to announce eight Why Not You Scholars this spring. Details are on the Dream Big website.
Nathan Nguyen, a managing director at JPMorgan Chase, said during remarks that his big dream as a kid was to be 6-feet 6-inches tall. He didn’t achieve that dream, he laughed, standing behind the podium in the library. When it was Wilson’s turn to speak, he joked that he shared Nguyen’s dream as a kid. At 5-feet-11, the famously “undersized” quarterback went on to prove doubters wrong.
Teens in attendance wrote their own life goals on sheets of paper that were hung around the library. They ranged from sports dreams to the desire to run a grocery store to hopes of becoming a photographer or makeup artist.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you have, the power of that dream is truly within you,” Ciara told the students, adding that she set goals as a teen to be discovered, sell millions of records and have staying power in the entertainment business. Fifteen years later, she has her sights set on a new record and more Grammy awards.
Mei’lani Eyre, a guest of KCLS and a student at Cascadia College in Bothell, Wash., was another role model for the younger kids in attendance.
Eyre is studying mobile development and was previously an intern on the education team at Code.org. She started coding through a Girls Who Code club at the Bothell library and eventually became a lead instructor as a volunteer, writing actual curriculum for the library’s ideaX programs.
“I think everybody should have the right to try STEM activities,” Eyre said. “I was and still am really bad at math, but STEM is the whole reason I was able to get over that fear. We have this whole idea that you have to be good at math and that’s what makes you smart. I realized when I started coding that that wasn’t the case. I would want students to know they should try things even if someone has told them, ‘You can’t do that, you’re not good at that.'”
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“Dream Big!” Our new @WhyNotYouFDN Campaign where @DangeRussWilson and I are giving $100k in college scholarships through our Why Not You Scholars Program & Library Cards to all the local kids to give opportunity and access for Coding, Reading and more! @kingcountylibrary #JpMorganChase
Wilson certainly tried something that some folks thought he had no business doing, and he won his profession’s top prize doing it. He and Ciara are also trying their hand at tech, finding connections in a city that has plenty of them to go around.
“I think tech’s everything,” Wilson told GeekWire. “When I was in middle school and high school, things were just coming out — AOL, dial up and all that — and now everything happens so fast. To be able to keep up with the generations to come, [STEM education] is one of the biggest things kids have to learn and continue to invest their time in.”
Wilson and Ciara have an array of business interests and investments in tech companies. His latest push is around Tally, a sports prediction app that evolved from what he started with TraceMe, a celebrity content app originally launched by Wilson in 2017. Ciara launched a new company this week called Beauty Marks Entertainment. The company positions music “at the intersection of Ciara’s other passions: film, fashion, technology and philanthropy” the website says.
Asked whether it’s tougher to get back to the Super Bowl or to launch a successful startup, Wilson smiled.
“That’s a great question. I think both are very, very difficult,” he said. “Both are very possible, and both are very, very likely, I’d say. You gotta have great teammates. Obviously for football we have great teammates, I think, and with Tally in particular we have amazing people, obviously Jeff Bezos, Joe Tsai and Jason LeeKeenan our CEO.
“[Ciara and I] get to talk about tech everyday. We work together on a lot of that stuff and a lot of those ideas, so it’s a lot of fun.”