By Gerard Littlejohn
It’s not often that you get to live out your purpose and make a living doing it. Fortunately for me, I get a chance to do just that on a daily basis.
Four years ago, I was hired by former Carolina Panthers star Steve Smith Sr. to be the executive director of his foundation, which had just launched a few months prior.
My career had long been in sports. I interned for the Charlotte Hornets (then the Bobcats) in the public relations department, and began working there full-time after I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I’ve also had stints working in sports marketing for both Lowe’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods, and did a bit of writing for the Associated Press. I’ve even had my own business, producing content and consulting for pro athletes, nonprofits and other organizations.
But this role transcends sports altogether, and I couldn’t be happier. More specifically, there are a couple amazing things I love about my role.
First, the Steve Smith Family Foundation was established to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, as well as to provide health and wellness services to families in need. We’ve raised money for domestic violence agencies through our events, renovated shelters and even launched a medical and counseling clinic, the Smith Family Wellness Center, that provides medical and counseling services to uninsured and underinsured residents in east Charlotte.
Steve was inspired to start this foundation because his mom is a survivor of domestic violence. He witnessed his mom being abused and having to deal with the aftereffects of that—including having to live in shelters, or with neighbors, and not having access to health care when it was most important.
When I interviewed for this role and had to hear Steve’s story, I was floored. But also, I found his story relatable.
Why? Because my mom is a domestic violence survivor, as well, and it’s taken me some time to share that.
I didn’t witness it. Her abuse happened with her ex-husband before I was born. However, I’ve seen its reverberation throughout her life, including how she processes things and who she lets into her life. One in four women is affected by domestic violence in her lifetime.
But now, with the clinic we launched in 2016, we’re able to give counseling to women and families who have experienced trauma. In 2018, due to a grant from Cardinal Innovations, our staff was able to expand and hire an additional trauma-informed counselor to help meet the needs of our community.
The other thing that brings me joy in this role is knowing that I get to make an impact with people who look like me. It’s not often that two African American males lead nonprofits, specifically ones that directly impact areas of domestic violence and community health. In fact, a 2015 study by Community Wealth Partners found that only eight percent of nonprofits were led by people of color.
By this time, we’re all familiar with Charlotte’s upward mobility issue. I’m proud our organization, led by men of color, impacts those who look like us and shares our experiences. I also couldn’t be more proud that Charlotte chooses to help us and open its arms to us.