I had the honor of attending four-time Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs’ 9th Annual Sports Extravaganza, marking the 12th consecutive year that the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation has brought fitness programs, knowledge, joy and inspiration to children throughout the State of New Jersey.
The magical evening pays tribute to legendary and impactful athletes who have been exemplary people on and off the field, the corporate sponsors such as Johnson & Johnson who help make this event possible, people who have demonstrated strong leadership and extraordinary commitment to youngsters, the members of JCD Sports Foundation Board of Directors and the selection committee as well as the New Jersey community and the distinguished recipients of the Joetta Geniuses Scholarship program.
The black tie event was held at The Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey and there were plenty of prominent folk there to interview and chat with. Each legend has their own remarkable story and continue to build upon their legacies by supporting and facilitating the dreams of young people in this country. During the VIP reception which was sponsored by Horizon NJ Health, the guests had the opportunity to get their programs signed,
Here is Part I of the interviews I conducted with various distinguished guests and honorees:
DAWN FITCH, “BUSINESS LEGEND”
By the time Dawn Fitch, president and founder of Pooka Pure and Simple, graced the cover of Black Enterprise in March of 2012, she was well on her way to becoming a game-changing part of the lucrative and expanding natural bath and body works industry. Pooka specializes in beauty and skin care products and is tagged as a way to "give your skin something good to eat."
Dawn Fitch: When Joetta invited me actually I was a little surprised because I never run hardly ever (laughter), but I support the foundation and all of the work that she does, and she said she wanted me to come and be a "business legend." I was truly honored and in my business we focus on giving back and teaching entrepreneurship to young girls and we developed a program that works with girl scouts so that they can get a badge for community service and things like that. So when Joetta asked me to be a part of this, there’s no way I could say no.
J.R. Gamble: When did you start your business?
Fitch: I started a Bath & Body line about 14 years ago and it basically went from my kitchen to the board room. The product is now sold in 50 whole food stores, we have retail locations and online and Black Enterprise magazine recognized the work that we were doing on social media – getting people into our store and that’s how we got that story the cover.
Gamble: What influenced you to enter the increasingly competitive beauty and skin care field?
Fitch: I’m actually a graphic artist by trade but I had gotten sick and I was traveling into NYC everyday and not feeling well. Every doctor said, ‘your fine; you’re healthy, go home.’ So I decided to take it in to my own hands and started reading labels and eating better foods and I looked at my bath products and I said, ‘Ok. I’m a college educated woman,’ and I couldn’t even pronounce the ingredients on the back. I started doing some research and they were very toxic and harmful. And that’s what prompted me to start my own product. It wasn’t for a business but it actually turned into one.
With the help of friends and family, by the time I moved out my apartment to our first small warehouse was about a year and a half...A lot of grassroots work, going to festivals and events and doing parties at people’s homes and then it finally got to the point where we could move it out of my apartment and into a warehouse. Then from there we secured our first whole food location.
Gamble: How much cash are you making?
When the article came out, we were doing $480,000...like I said, it’s a small business and people always ask me what do we do with the money. Well we don’t have it all, it goes right back into business expenses but we are growing in small increments.”
In an effort to motivate and inspire other small business owners, Dawn Fitch is also available for speaking engagements and television appearances. She is a recognized authority on using social media to boost your small business.
DEON GRANT, FORMER NFL SAFETY
Deon Grant knows a thing or two about leadership, determination and polishing diamonds. The former NFL safety served his team in various unselfish capacities during his 12 year career, which began with the Carolina Panthers in 2000 and ended with him being a defensive leader on the NY Giants Super Bowl XLVI championship squad.
Deon Grant: I’m here for a couple of reasons. Joetta reached out to me. Both of us are former University of Tennessee Volunteers so she said she wanted to honor me for my success over the years and also I’m here to support what she’s doing with the kids because her and I walk the same path in that regard.
J.R. Gamble: What are you doing these days?
Grant: I’m still working with the Giants and doing a lot of mentoring with the young guys that’s coming in and doing a lot of stuff in the community with the Giants and also running my foundation back and forth between here and Atlanta. It’s called Greatness Requires All Necessary Tools and we’re just trying to help the city youth. In the community right now the kids need our help more than anything, so I try to give them the opportunity to get scholarships, we’re building centers in the communities for kids and different programs to get them out of town on different trips and everything else.
Gamble: Are the Giants a playoff team?
Grant: I think right now it seems like they have a lot of young guys that’s playing key roles so they are doing a lot of guessing. They have to calm down and not try to do too much and trust each other. When they calm down and just do their part I think it will flow the way they want it to.
Gamble: Is Tom Coughlin still the man for the job?
Grant: I think he is. Once they figure out who’s going to be their guy to step up in that leadership role, Coughlin can put a lot of that weight on their shoulders. Antrel Rolle is more of an on the field leader. He leads with his play on the field. When I was on the Giants I was more of a vocal leader and everything being the oldest one in the locker room when I was playing. Not just talking a good game but walking the walk also. With all of the young guys in the locker room that’s what they’re missing right now.
Gamble: What’s your take on the NFL’s recent domestic violence issues and bad press?
Grant: It’s a hard situation and a lot of people like to shy away from it. The part I don’t like about what’s going on now is we are living in the type of world where people are going to make a lot of mistakes. And when a person makes mistakes I don’t think that you just let them go with no discipline, but don’t turn your back on that person. We are teaching our youth that as soon as you make a mistake you’re done and you can’t be accepted in this world no more. And that’s not right. In particular cases there are people who do the same thing over and over again and under those circumstances I understand; strip them of everything and let him go and serve his time. But for some, this is the first time they’ve made a mistake and I just don’t think trying to discipline athletes by stripping everything from them is the way you should do things. That’s not the way we’re supposed to teach our kids.
KEVIN LAUE, FIRST PERSON MISSING A LIMB TO PLAY NCAA D-1 BASKETBALL
Kevin Laue: I’m honored to be here I’m a friend of Joetta Clark and everything she’s done has been incredible. I’m humbled to be here. I’m a 24-year old kid and what I’ve accomplished is incredible but in my own eyes it doesn’t compare to the Olympians and Super Bowl champions that I’m sitting next too. It was a humbling experience and it’s been great Joetta’s foundation has done so much for youth.
J.R. Gamble: How has adversity actually been your saving grace?
Laue: Everything that I’ve gone through...getting the scholarship to Manhattan College and the junrey afterwards has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’m traveling the whole world doing motivational speaking at this point. I’m also a board member for New Jersey Special Olympics. I’m still working out the basketball and figuring out my next step with that, but I have a documentary up for an Academy Award last year that’s coming out and they are making a feature film... like “The Blindside” type of movie as well.
LARRY HOLMES, FORMER HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP
J.R. Gamble: What are some of your immediate reflections of Muhammad Ali?
The Champ: Always great. You know I had an opportunity to work with him as a sparring partner and also had the opportunity to travel with him around the world when I was coming up. He gave me the opportunity to learn boxing and how to box and be able to box with some of the best like Joe Frazier and Ali, Ron Lyles and Ernie Shavers. Ali gave me all of those opportunities and it was great, you know?
Gamble: Reflect on that Ken Norton brawl back in ’78 for the WBC c’hip.
The Champ: That Norton fight was tough man. He just won the heavyweight championship of the world and you know he didn’t want to lose it that fast. So the fight was a serious fight. We fought 15 rounds, toe-to-toe, and they don’t have fights, wars like that anymore in boxing.
Gamble: Future of Heavyweight Division?
The Champ: It’s crazy because there’s nobody out there. I don’t even watch boxing too much anymore. If it wasn’t for (Floyd) Mayweather and (Manny) Pacquiao I wouldn’t watch boxing. I don’t know any of the other guys anymore and they don’t show me anything.
Gamble: How come the U.S. can’t develop any great new heavyweights?
The Champ: Heavy weights don’t want to do it anymore. They want to stay in school and go to college…and get drafted by the pros. But in reality they don’t know, football is harder than boxing. If you’re good enough not to get hit… but football’s just as bad as all of the other sports. There’s not a sport out there that’s easy. “
GREG FOSTER, TRACK & FIELD LEGEND (HURDLES) AND 1984 OLYMPIC SILVER MEDALIST
Greg Foster: Joetta Clark has been a good friend of mine for a very long time and I’ve had the pleasure of competing alongside her as a member of Team USA Track & Field for many, many years and not only that, her mom has always been one of my biggest fans since the days we started competing. I had never met her, but I have spoken to her on the phone numerous times and each time I was with Joetta and her mom happened to call she’d always make it a point to tell Joetta to tell me hello, and that she’s watching me compete on TV.
Gamble: What are you doing these days?
Foster: I’m a sports agent for Track & Field, so I have clients competing professionally all over the globe. I also have my own foundation, Partners for Educational Progress, where we basically go out and help a lot of these kids who don’t have the funding to get to these different competitions to showcase their talent. So we sponsor and support them by providing transportation, housing and the travel expenses that they need to get to these various competitions across the country to display their talents to these college coaches.
Last year I’m happy to say we were able to get $11 million worth of scholarships for the kids ranging in ages from 8-18, but once they get to high school and the recruitment possibilities arise that’s when we make sure they get access to where these coaches are going to be.
Our home base is St. Louis, but it doesn’t matter where we are located because if there’s a kid out there looking for a school, there’s somebody I can call to get them in a school somewhere.
Gamble: How was the “Olympic Experience” during that time in the 80s?
Foster: The best part of the Olympic experience was getting a chance to see athletes that you would only see on television. I got a chance to see some of the greatest boxers, swimmers, volleyball and basketball players and just getting a chance to sit in the same cafeteria and same dorm as these world class athletes was unreal. Of course competing was great but you don’t often get a chance to sit and talk with these guys that you admire so much and see on TV. It was just one big family it was special.
The ‘84 Olympics was special and it was different and kind of bittersweet because you didn’t have the Russians there. Just like in ‘80 we couldn’t go to Moscow and that was difficult for us, I’m sure 1984 was difficult for the Russians not being allowed to come to the U.S. and compete in LA. I wouldn’t give the experience up for anything in the world.
Gamble: You were the favorite going into that Olympics and you didn’t get the gold.
Foster: I have no regret. You’re not going to win every time you step on the track. Fortunately my career was long enough where I went about 75 competitions in a row without losing. It wasn’t quite Edwin Moses’ string of like 122 straight races, but I was able to compete at a high level for 15 years and of those 16 years I was ranked in the top ten in the world for 15 of them so I pride myself on my longevity and being able to compete for a long time at a top level and I had a great support system. Back then, me and Joetta and the other athletes – we were like family. We would watch and support each other’s races.
James Robinson, NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL STUD (1952-1958)
Robinson: There was this great group of guys that got together in 1920 and that was the official beginning of the Negro Leagues. Some of the teams were the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Kansas City Monarchs. Kansas City Monarchs, that’s the team I ended up with. I used to watch the Kansas City Monarchs when I was a young man in the 30s and 40s my father used to take me to watch them.
Gamble: Highlights of your career?
Robinson: I have several highlights. First, being selected to play in the East-West All Star game in 1956-1958. Second, signing a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals' organization in 1954-1955. And third, being the captain of the Kansas City Monarchs in 1957- 1958. The Kansas City Monarchs experience as far as I’m concerned was the greatest experience. Because I had a chance to travel and really see the country by bus and grow as a person. I also learned that things may not be exactly how we truly want them to be, but we were still doing something that we loved and I realize that some of those guys I played with are not here but I remember them and they are my brothers.
Making the most of our opportunities was key. "I graduated from North Carolina A&T State University in 1953 and earned a Master's degree in Social Work from City University of New York in 1968. I worked for the New York City Housing Authority for 28 years. After my retirement in 1985, I began working as a coordinator for the Washington Mental Health Residence Program (1985-1988). Then, I became an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at South Carolina State University (1988-1994) as well as the school's head baseball coach (1990- 1993). Currently, I am an active volunteer with the Harlem little league.