This story is reproduced with permission from The Birmingham Times
There are no typical days at the 2022 World Games (TWG 2022) headquarters in Birmingham city centre. Some days include communication with various suppliers and municipalities or with the International World Games Association. Some days are filled with marathon staff meetings. Some days are devoted to site visits. And every day is about making decisions and knowing that every decision, no matter how small, affects the whole effort.
Many of these decisions are being made by a ‘dream team’ of local black women known for their talent and work ethic, a group of three dedicated professionals who will put Birmingham on the world stage in a positive way like never before.
They are Kathy Boswell, vice president of community relations for the Games, responsible for recruiting volunteers for the Games and responsible for several key programs; Pam Cook, Director of Multicultural Marketing and Community Affairs for Coca-Cola UNITED’s Central Region, who serves as Marketing Director for the Games; and Rashada LeRoy, who, with her company LRY Media Group, produces the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and manages The World Games Plaza.
The 2022 TWG, which will attract elite athletes from over 100 countries around the world, will take place from July 7-17, 2022, at various venues across the Birmingham Metropolitan Area including Protective Stadium, Legion Field, Birmingham CrossPlex and the Hoover Metropolitan Complex – and is expected to have an estimated economic impact of $256 million.
The event is held every four years, the year following each Summer Olympics. Held over 11 days, the World Games represent the pinnacle of competition for 3,600 of the world’s best athletes in more than 30 unique multidisciplinary sports.
(On Monday, the Birmingham World Games Organizing Committee announced that it had banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition).
Featured sports include pool games, archery, and dance competitions, among others.
“We know the importance of having a seat at the table,” Cook said. “We know it’s needed and it’s needed – and I think it’s appreciated.”
Nick Sellers, CEO of TWG 2022, said of Boswell, Cook and LeRoy, “They are the dream team.”
“Apart from anything else, they are incredibly talented and hardworking human beings,” he added. “These three strong and talented black women bring their authentic identities to the table every day and help us improve.”
Every day for the TWG 2022 team is also about navigating the changes. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the only thing certain about the planning for TWG 2022 is uncertainty.
“It teaches us to respect uncertainty, not to be afraid of it,” Boswell said. “Every day is uncertain for us, but you can’t use uncertainty as an excuse. What we are certain of is that we can do things that will keep us moving forward.
Along with the constant uncertainty, the TWG 2022 Organizing Committee faces the challenge of doing something that has never been done before. They have no plan for this historic enterprise.
“We’re writing the playbook for that,” Cook said. “We’re the data for the future of what’s going to happen for this level of event that’s coming to the city.”
Simply put, Cook’s job is to help the World Games live up to their name. “It’s the World Games, and the world isn’t looking one way,” she said. “I’m very intent on making sure we speak to different communities.”
This means promoting TWG 2022 through urban and Latino radio stations and newspapers to engage diverse communities. This means including people of varying abilities in trending videos and promoting the wheelchair rugby events of the Games. It means celebrating and engaging Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Although Cook is originally from Huntsville, Alabama, she has been in Birmingham for more than 20 years and knows that communities of color and low-income neighborhoods in Magic City often feel left out of large-scale urban events. But The World Games Plaza is free and open to the public, and Cook wants everyone to enjoy the live entertainment, sports demonstrations and other activities that will be available.
“Don’t be afraid,” Cook said. “Don’t say, ‘It’s not for us.’ Don’t say, ‘I’m not going there and I’m not going to get involved in any of this.’ Go down and get into it all. It’s worth it. You are going to be so glad you did.
“We have each other”
Because there is no playbook, the TWG 2022 planning team has to depend on each other.
“It’s everyone’s first time to this event here, so right now we’re meeting up,” LeRoy said. “We lean on each other for support, for perspective, for whatever we need to be successful. One day I need prayers. The next day, I need a hug. Other days, I’m on top of the world.
Despite all the hard work and all the uncertainty, Boswell, Cook and LeRoy all agree they are having the time of their lives.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime activity,” Cook said. “There’s uncertainty, and we have our ups and downs, our ups and downs every day. … Deep down, though, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a really big deal, and we don’t. let’s not take it for granted.
Boswell, Cook and LeRoy had the opportunity to be in the studio with artists working on the TWG 2022 theme song, and they were even invited into the booth and record their own vocals. They enjoyed holding promotional events in Birmingham, as well as in Atlanta, Georgia. They enjoy creating storyboards and working on other creative aspects of the planning process. They even like to do interviews with members of the media.
But the best part of working on TWG 2022 was doing it together.
“To be good with these people in my life, I’m in a win-win situation,” Boswell said, adding that she not only got to know Cook and LeRoy, but also grew to love them. “I may never work with them again, but I will always support them.”
Just as there is no manual on how to host TWG 2022 in Birmingham, there is no guaranteed plan for success. Yet all three agree that if you want to do something exceptional, you must first believe you can.
“It’s really the battle,” LeRoy said, admitting she didn’t always embrace the “anything is possible” mindset, especially when growing up in public housing in Dothan, in Alabama.
“We said it, but I didn’t believe it,” she added. “But the older I got and the more I started to go out and put myself in awkward spaces and take risks, that’s when I really started to believe that anything was really really possible. And a once you believe you can do it, you will begin to put the tools and resources in place to help you accomplish whatever you want to do.
“Nothing Like ‘No'”
LeRoy has a simple but bold philosophy that she often shares with her team at LRY Media Group: “There are no ‘Nos’. It’s just, ‘How can we do it?’
She had to rely on this attitude every day when planning the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the World Games Plaza in the face of constant change. The pandemic delayed the Games for an entire year. New venues like Protective Stadium and City Walk also forced LeRoy not only to rearrange her plans, but sometimes to plan spaces she hadn’t yet set foot in due to construction.
Every day, LeRoy asks himself an important question: “How do we give people an experience that they will remember forever and that will also bring more opportunities to Birmingham?” It guides every decision he makes.
“Our ultimate goal is to make sure the city looks great,” LeRoy said.
With years of event planning under his belt, a degree in computer science, and experience working in information technology (IT), LeRoy has a knack for building systems that work. TWG 2022 CEO Sellers believes what sets her apart is her ability to be a good team player and team leader.
“[LeRoy] really developed an exceptional organizational talent to harness all the different individual entrepreneurs and teams under one vision,” he said. “She delivers them on time and on budget – in fact, under budget, incredibly – because she’s really good.”
Coordinating the production team, the creative team, the artists and musicians, and the group running the plaza requires LeRoy to work with dozens of people to bring his vision for the ceremonies and the World Games Plaza to life.
“She’s able to handle big egos and all these different personalities,” Sellers said. “She can put herself in other people’s shoes and she knows how to deal with them in a very stable way.”
LeRoy, Boswell and Cook have not only become colleagues and friends, but a support system. “It’s so important to surround yourself with people who are where you want to be,” Cook said. “They’ll get you into space, and then all you have to do is deliver.”
Boswell agrees that the company you keep can make all the difference.
“You have to have friends who won’t just push you, but pull you,” she said. “Sometimes your friends have to take the first step and train you.”
The 2022 World Games will take place from July 7-17, 2022, at various venues across the Birmingham metropolitan area. For more information, visit twg2022.com.