“We’re a family now. Like it’s not just the weekend or whatever, you really end looking at each other like family by the end of the retreat.”
That was Haley’s response when I asked what she enjoyed most about the retreat. Honestly, I was skeptical on how genuine her answer was. That negative voice that we all have in our mind got a little louder. “Is she just saying that? How do I know if my experience will be the same? I wonder if they have anymore of those Chick-Fil-A biscuits they had this morning.”
These thoughts fired off in rapid succession as we wrapped up our conversation. The moment she walked away, I told myself to think positively and let the retreat be what it’s going to be. Why stress over questions that are going to get answered? So, I focused on what I knew for sure: no matter what happened, this weekend would be one of the most interesting stories of my life.
I spent most of the first day paying attention to what happened organically, and by the time Dr. Collin Williams wrapped up his RISE presentation, I noticed that everything felt natural so far. During conversations, you genuinely cared. During group discussions, everyone hung on to the speaker’s every word. During meals, the laughs came from a place of relief and comfort. It felt like a family reunion, not because The Isley Brothers provided the soundtrack or the person on the grill constantly saying, “See, y’all don’t know nothin’ ‘bout this here,” but in the sense of being surrounded by like-minded and like-hearted (if that wasn’t a phrase it is now) people.
The second day was undoubtedly the most fun, but it was a marathon. We had the panel with Bryan Harris, Tiffany Kelly, Erica Wilkerson, Adrian Williams; a presentation by Will Baggett; the site visits to the Braves Arena; and Jackson | Spalding or Turner Studios wrapped up by the Dinner of Influence. The panel shined light on something that I thought was exclusive to the media side of sports: everything is about the story. Rather, it was Erica Wilkerson talking how she changes the narrative in Nascar, or Bryan Harris explaining how marketing starts with “a story first approach.” Everything circled back to a story. During Turner, LaRhonda Jackson literally said, “We’re essentially story tellers” in reference to Turner as a corporation. It began to feel like I was being punked, but I’ve learned that if you keep hearing the same thing, it’s probably an invitation to start listening.
At the Dinner of Influence, Corinne started the night off by explaining how we all came together and what we needed to do as a community, namely after the dinner concluded, and we all went our separate ways. At our dinner tables, we all shared a story on the assistance we received. Consequently, each story explained it’s narrator’s personality, passions, and purpose. That’s when it clicked, we weren’t brought together by our superficial love of sports. What truly tied us together was the overwhelming will to pay it forward.
The next day started with a golf lesson, we were told the course used to be one of the worst neighborhoods, not only in Atlanta or the South but in America. A place that was formerly known as “Little Vietnam” was now a golf course filled with skilled and open-minded children, lifelong learners of golf, and us, a group that needed a lot of guidance (except Noor, she’s the truth).
Later that day we heard from Dr. Shaw. Her presentation which was my favorite simply because it shoved us out of our comfort zones by addressing our vulnerabilities. I’ve always been fixated on eliminating weaknesses, namely fear and insecurities, but what Dr. Shaw shared was that this could only be achieved through confronting these issues. We all were challenged to share something we feared which at first made us feel like strangers all over again, but it ultimately brought us closer together by the time we all told our truths.
That night was the second Dinner of Influence. The only glaring difference was the stories told at each table due to a change in who was in attendance and the party that wrapped up the night. As we danced to 90’s R&B and laughed about any and everything, we ended up celebrating a family that just added 16 new members.
The final day began with a presentation on how to deal with success and failures by Jarrod Barnes, and through all that, he taught us my biggest take away was the quote “success is peace of mind.” Maria followed us by telling us her story, and I think if questioned on it, we would all agree that it felt good hearing that success isn’t linear nor is it easy, but if it’s something your heart’s in it, it’s definitely worth it.
So, when someone asks, “I saw you were down in Atlanta, how was it?” I’ll tell the story of how we all learned as much about ourselves as we did about the other cohorts. Of how an open mind can set you up for some of the best times of your life. Of how our imagination and ambitions got a little bigger, but through networking and putting our best foot forward, our worlds got a little smaller. Of how the Dinner(s) of Influence reconfirmed that there are no mistakes in who you gravitate towards. Of how true strength is found not in being guarded and closed off emotionally, but in being strategically vulnerable with yourself and others. But most of all, of how Haley was right because by the end of the weekend, the WE Game Change family got a little bigger.
Darryl graduated from Villanova in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Communications. Following graduation, he played a year of professionally, but due to injury spent the following year on Jay Wright’s coaching staff. Now he’s preparing to launch his own production company called Stay Tuned Network while hosting several podcasts in the Philadelphia area.
Talaya Wilkins was his retreat mentor!