In continuation of the Rams' virtual Mental Health Series in strategic partnership with EVERFI from Blackbaud, and to culminate the team's Black History Month efforts, the team hosted a "Kingfish: The Story of Kenny Washington Speaker Series" webinar for thousands of students (grades 6-9) throughout all 32 NFL markets.
The session featured a screening of the Rams recently released short film Kingfish: The Story of Kenny Washington, which tells the story of Kenny Washington, who was the first Black player to be signed by a National Football League (NFL) team in the modern era and ended a 12-year ban on Black players in the league. The Rams produced the film in partnership with The BLK Originals, a Black-owned creative agency that specializes in genuine storytelling through research, ideation and design, and Black-owned production company Loyd Visuals.
Following the screening, the Rams hosted a virtual panel discussion moderated by Rams Director of Social Justice and Football Development, Johnathan Franklin. The panelists included Rams safety Quentin Lake, Rams Legend and Super Bowl XXXIV Champion Roland Williams, Rams Manager of Analytics and Consumer Insights Amber Williams, The BLK Originals co-founders Sam Hoggs and Jasmine Alston, and Kenny Washington's granddaughter Kysa Washington. The group used Kenny Washington's story as a reference to discuss coping strategies and how to stay healthy in times of uncertainty, becoming trailblazers and paving the way for the generations to come.
After playing for the Rams, Kenny Washington went on to serve his community in different ways. He began a career in law enforcement as an LAPD officer and became an actor starring in Hollywood films. Washington's decision to pursue different careers after football inspired Roland Williams to redefine his life after football.
"In life after football, I have tried to integrate the spirit of Kenny Washington in my life to break barriers as a father, a businessperson, and my own self growth," said Williams. "During the COVID pandemic, I tried to get into a new field. One day, all of us who play sports stop playing and must redefine ourselves. I got into a new field of medical manufacturing, an industry that is not known for having many people of color. During these two years, I got doors slammed in my face. Fast forward to today, I raised more than 50 million for the company. This took a lot of work, and I could only take a glimpse of what Kenny Washington had to go through. How I overcame this was staying close to God and staying close to the people and the places that helped me succeed."
Quentin Lake has many similarities to Kenny Washington, from playing at UCLA to being drafted by the Rams. Lake expressed how the story of Kenny Washington has inspired him on and off the field.
"UCLA and the Rams are both a great community. I think what touched me the most about his story was how many people he inspired," said Lake. "In the world of football, you interact with people every day. I think many people can attest that Kenny touched the lives of people he interacted with. He left a long impression on people no matter what race or gender. He is someone that I, as a young man, look up to and inspire to be in the sense that you have to be respectful to everyone and treat everyone the same. There is a golden rule, treat those how you would want to be treated. Something that stood out to me was everyone saying, 'Kenny ran so I could fly,' and that came from Kenny being an inspiration to their lives. You have to treat people how you want to be treated and leave an impact on the people you interact with on a day-to-day basis."
While creating the film, Sam Hoggs and Jasmine Alston were able to dig deep into the legacy of Kenny Washington. During the process of creating the film, the reoccurring theme of "perseverance" came up. Hoggs and Alston spoke to the students about how they were able to apply Kenny Washington's spirit of perseverance and the different things they were able to take away from the film.
"The key word that keeps coming up is perseverance, whether it's Kenny story, our story, or our everyday lives. I've had trouble in high school, college, and in my career world but you must keep pushing and continue believing in your dreams," said Hoggs. "It may take time to unfold, things may not happen exactly when you want them to but continue to stay steadfast and work hard. Things will eventually work in your way. Stay on course and know that everything that is for you will be for you," said Alston. "Stay humble and stay steadfast."
Kenny's story has been able to impact the lives of everyone in football including the women at the forefront of the game. Amber Williams serves as the first Black woman analyst at the Rams. Williams shared her story of being a trailblazer in the world of football because of the people who've paved the way for her.
"Honestly sometimes it feels surreal. I started as the first analyst a now we have a team of analysts that touch across the organization. Now, I can also say that I am a Super Bowl champion. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to say that, especially as a young girl. If it wasn't for Kenny Washington and all the people before me to pave that way and for me to find my own path in sports means everything. It makes all the pain, struggle and tears and everything it took for me to get here that much more worth it."
The Rams kicked off the second year of the Mental Health Series last November. Rams rookies, Rams Cheerleaders, and staff members joined two South Los Angeles schools in person for a mindfulness activity and a discussion about mental wellness. Following the series kickoff, the Rams have hosted monthly virtual sessions for Los Angeles region middle and high school students. Each session covers a variety of mental wellness topics designed to help students learn about the complexities of mental health disorders, healthy coping skills, and ways they can seek help.
NFL strategic partner, EVERFI is the leading digital education innovator that provides organizations with the ability to deliver health and wellness education to communities – wherever they are.
To learn more about the Rams' community efforts, please visit www.therams.com/community.