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Here at GoodSport, we believe that a shared passion for sports is one of the strongest connection points in society. Our mission is to raise the visibility of women and girls in sports, and we are dedicated to sharing positive stories that shine a light on worthy role models while encouraging athletic participation at every level.

Empower ONYX was created in 2021 to highlight Black women and girls in sports. EO is solely dedicated to fostering a community that showcases the transformative power of sport, promotes self-love, and allows Black women and girls to be seen and heard. The mission of EO is to empower, inspire, and uplift the next generation of leaders in sports and beyond.

GoodSport sat down with CEO Michelle Wilson to talk about Empower ONYX’s mission and why, now more than ever, is the time to elevate women’s sports and all who encompass it.

This interview was conducted via Google Meet. Minor editing changes were made for clarity.

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Why was Empower ONYX created? Why was there a need to separate EO from GoodSport and create an entirely new platform that focused primarily on Black women and girls?

As we were navigating 2020, we were like ‘how could you not recognize the need for very targeted messaging to specific demographics.’ If we were going to elevate a community, we had to speak to that community intentionally and purposefully. GoodSport was doing great overall and really elevating female voices overall, but the need for us to specifically target Black women and girls became more and more prevalent. When you look at the success metrics around sports, there is definitely a corollary between girls participating in sports and their ability to achieve success. So whether it's within the sports industry or external, the fact that they were engaged in sport at a younger age through school increased their chances of success in the long run. I think as you look at many different diverse groups, whether it's Black women and girls, the LGBTQ+ community, or AANHPI, you need to be authentic and that is sometimes hard to do when your target is everyone. So those are some of the reasons that we felt like there was a need for it because we wanted to impact young girls in a real way.

With female sports in general, there are barriers there that people think nobody's going to watch women's sports so people ask “why would you focus on that primarily and not do all sports?” So were there any sort of obstacles or barriers that you had to go through in order to create EO?

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Yes and no. No, in that everyone at that time was scrambling to figure out what to do as it related to speaking to diverse communities. I know we've been asked subsequently a couple of times ‘do you include brown women?’ They’re just questions, not a pushback necessarily. We're young and we're still trying to figure out our voice, but for us, it's really about authenticity. Being a small company, I just don't know how you do that at a really high level. We just speak it because we are it. So I think there’s just a difference.

Were you an athlete during the whole change into Title IX? You also attended Hampton University, an HBCU. Even with that fact, were you ever faced with any obstacles that made you not want to be an athlete or continue to do so?

I was one of the first players at female players at Hampton because they hadn't had a girl’s team. They haven't had tennis for a very long time, but they didn't have a girl's tennis team and they needed that in order to move up to Division I.

As for the second question, I would flip it. I played for one year at Hampton my senior year so it's a little wonky, but I was an equestrian. I jumped and I competed at a high level in equine sports, and it was very subjective, but there were many, many times I was at the bottom of the podium. I had this stereotypical equestrian body. I had long legs, skinny. I mean, now that I've had two babies, it's all gone, but back then, I was this stereotypical body for my sport, kind of like Michael Phelps — he was born like a fish. And that's what I was in my sport. Um, but time and time again, I was at the bottom of the podium and there were some tough conversations that needed to be had. There were lots of tears, but you know, the one thing that sports showed me is if you love it, don't let anybody take it away from you. Somebody's going to see it, someone's going to recognize it. And eventually, they saw that in me, but it was tough. It was tough. I would go from the tennis world to horseback riding — I was competing in both at the same time. My dad would say ‘you may get a bad line judge every now and again, but then don't play lines.’ But I got to dictate more of my fate in tennis than I did in horseback riding.

What is the purpose of the 100 Influential Black Women In Sports series you have going on with Sports Illustrated? Who do you highlight? What is EO hoping this series will do, etc.?

It's on multiple fronts. I think that the sports world is used to lists just in general; just in the industry overall, everything's top 10 moments, do dot da. So lists work within this industry and finding a mechanism to recognize the Black women in the industry was really important. That's sort of where the genesis of the idea came from, and what we also wanted to do was really show this wide assortment of women in sports. [People] never think of us in all of these different places. If you look at the assortment of women, Black women are athletes, but we're accountants, we're lawyers, we're heads of foundations, we are head of marketing, head of events doing, sales, graphic design, apparel, etc. I was just looking at my network and there were women that I knew in sports that I knew people didn't know about. The world needs to know and needs to hear these stories. So that's how it came together and it was about putting everybody on the sports world's radar in a platform that they get and understand who these women are. They’re dynamic and they're wonderful — let's elevate them.

What's some advice that you would give to people that would give them the strength and the courage to get into sports, and want to be noticed and seen, and just do what they love without any backlash?

First of all, life is about backlash. You'll get over it. Secondly, look at the numbers because you can see that the outcomes are there. And lastly, find your passion. If you're a young girl that loves wrestling but is afraid for whatever reason to engage in wrestling, that's okay. You can, but be a writer. The goal of the company and the program is to show that you can engage in any way you're most comfortable with and still get those benefits. So if you are a writer or if you are an equipment manager, or if you are a musician that wants to be in the band or wants to play the music, you can find your place in sports in many different ways. If you love it, go for it. It will reward you in the end — all of it comes to life in and around sports.

Photo credit: Empower ONYX’s Instagram