By Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times
There are no typical days at The World Games 2022 (TWG 2022) headquarters in downtown Birmingham. Some days include communicating with various vendors and municipalities or with the International World Games Association. Some days are filled with marathon staff meetings. Some days are all about site visits. And every day is about making decisions and knowing that each decision—no matter how small—affects the entire effort.
Many of those 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 that will put Birmingham on the world stage in a positive way like never before.
They are Kathy Boswell, who serves as vice president of community relations for the Games, leads the charge for recruiting volunteers for the Games, and is at the helm of several key programs; Pam Cook, director of multicultural marketing and community affairs for Coca-Cola UNITED’s Central Region, who serves as chief marketing officer for the Games; and Rashada LeRoy, who, along with her company LRY Media Group, is producing the opening and closing ceremonies and managing The World Games Plaza.
TWG 2022, which will draw elite athletes from more than 100 countries around the globe, will take place from July 7 through July 17, 2022, at various venues across the Birmingham metro area—including Protective Stadium, Legion Field, the Birmingham CrossPlex, and the Hoover Metropolitan Complex—and is expected to have an estimated $256 million in economic impact.
The event is held every four years, in the year following each Summer Olympic Games. Staged over 11 days, The World Games represent the pinnacle of competition for 3,600 of the world’s best athletes in 30-plus unique, multidisciplinary sports.
Featured sports include competitions in billiard games, archery, and dance, among others.
“We know the significance of us having a seat at the table,” said Cook. “We know it’s necessary 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.”
“Independent of anything else, they are just incredibly talented, hardworking human beings,” he added. “These three strong, talented Black women bring their authentic selves to the table every day and help make us better.”
Each day for TWG 2022 team is about navigating changes, as well. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the only thing certain about planning TWG 2022 is uncertainty.
“This is teaching us is to respect uncertainty, not 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 about is that we can do things that will allow us to keep moving forward.”
Along with the constant uncertainty, the organizing committee for TWG 2022 faces the challenge of doing something that’s never been done before. They have no blueprint for this historic undertaking.
“We’re writing the playbook for this,” Cook said. “We are the data for the future of what’s going to come for this level of event that will come to the city.”
Simply put, Cook’s job is to help The World Games live up to its name. “This is The World Games, and the world doesn’t look one way,” she said. “I am very intentional about making sure we are talking to various communities.”
That means promoting TWG 2022 via urban and Latino radio stations and newspapers to engage various communities. That means including people of diverse abilities in hype videos and promoting the wheelchair rugby events of the Games. That means celebrating and engaging Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Though Cook is a Huntsville, Alabama, native, she has been in Birmingham for more than 20 years, and she knows that the Magic City’s communities of color and low-income neighborhoods often feel left out of large-scale city 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 of it,” Cook said. “Don’t say, ‘It’s not for us.’ Don’t say, ‘I’m not going down there and getting in all of that.’ Come on down and get in all of that. It’s worth it. You’re going to be so glad you did.”
“We Have Each Other”
Because there’s no playbook, TWG 2022 planning team must depend on one another.
“This is everybody’s first time doing this event here, so right now we just have each other,” LeRoy said. “We’re leaning on each other for support, for perspective, for whatever we need in order 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 that they’re having the time of their lives.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime activity,” Cook said. “There is uncertainty, and we have our day-to-day ups and downs, highs and lows. … At the core, though, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a really big deal, and we don’t take it for granted.”
Boswell, Cook, and LeRoy have had the opportunity to be in the studio with recording artists working on the theme song for TWG 2022, and they even were invited to step into the booth and record their own vocals. They’ve enjoyed doing promotional events throughout Birmingham, as well as in Atlanta, Georgia. They enjoy creating storyboards and working on other creative aspects of the planning process. They even like doing interviews with members of the media.
But the best part of working on TWG 2022 has been doing it together.
“To be gifted with these people in my life, I’m in a win-win situation,” Boswell said, adding that she has not only gotten to know Cook and LeRoy but has grown to love them, too. “I may never work with them again, but I’m always going to have their back.”
Just as there’s no playbook for how to host TWG 2022 in Birmingham, there’s no guaranteed blueprint for success. Still, the three of them all agree that if you want to do something exceptional you must first believe that you can.
“That’s really the battle,” LeRoy said, admitting that she didn’t always embrace the mindset that “anything is possible,” especially when she was growing up in public housing in Dothan, Alabama.
“We said it, but I didn’t believe it,” she added. “But the older I got and the more I started stepping out and putting myself in uncomfortable spaces and taking risks, that’s when I really started to believe that anything is really truly possible. And once you believe that you can do it, you’ll start putting the tools and resources in place to help you accomplish whatever it is that you want to do.”
“No Such Thing as ‘No’”
LeRoy has a simple but bold philosophy that she often shares with her team at LRY Media Group: “There’s no such thing as ‘No.’ It’s just: ‘How can we get it done?’”
She’s had to lean on this attitude every day while planning the opening and closing ceremonies and The World Games Plaza in the face of constant changes. The pandemic delayed the Games for an entire year. New venues like Protective Stadium and City Walk also forced LeRoy to not only revamp her plans but sometimes make plans for spaces she had yet to step foot in due to construction.
Each day, LeRoy asks herself one important question: “How do we give people an experience that they will remember forever and that will also bring more opportunities to Birmingham?” This guides every decision she makes.
“Our ultimate end goal is to make sure the city looks great,” LeRoy said.
With years of event planning under her belt, a computer science degree, and experience working in information technology (IT), LeRoy has a knack for developing systems that work. TWG 2022 CEO Sellers believes what sets her apart is her ability to be a good team player and a good team leader.
“[LeRoy] has really developed such an exceptional organizational talent to harness all the various individual contractors and teams under one single vision,” he said. “She’s keeping them on time and on budget—actually under budget, unbelievably—because she’s just really good.”
Coordinating the production team, the creative team, the artists and musicians, and the group managing the plaza requires LeRoy to work with dozens of people to bring her vision for the ceremonies and The World Games Plaza to life.
“She’s able to deal with big egos and all of 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 steady 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 bring you into the space, and then all you’ve got to do is deliver.”
Boswell agrees that the company you keep can make all the difference.
“You’ve got to have friends who won’t just push you, but they will pull you,” she said. “Sometimes your friends have to take the first step and pull you along.”
The World Games 2022 will take place from July 7 through July 17, 2022, at various venues across the Birmingham metro area. For more information, visit twg2022.com.