By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Champs and Success is more than the name of a business and mentorship program for Keonna Farmer, a former athlete and current physical education teacher in Jefferson County. It’s a lifestyle.
“I was once a student athlete and saw first-hand other athletes miss a mark in their life or didn’t receive the proper guidance they needed to make important decisions as it relates to mentorship. I wanted to fill that gap and give people what my mother gave me, support,” said Farmer, who teaches physical education at Rudd Middle School in Pinson, AL.
Through Champs and Success, Farmer aids teens and student athletes with resources they need and build a foundation for a brighter future,” she said.
With a background in athletics, banking and nonprofits, Farmer was inspired in 2019 to launch Champs and Success to help teens, young adults and student athletes into adulthood with resources and knowledge to make their transition less strenuous.
She stressed the importance of utilizing their skillsets outside of sports, financial management, student-athlete enrichment and development, brand partnerships, credit and entrepreneurship.
“Learning the basics of the financial psychology behind your saving habits, your lifestyle, and your wants and needs based on your mindset is very important,” she said.
Those skills are important because millions of student athletes have dreams of becoming a professional athlete, but their chances are extremely unlikely.
“It is a 1 percent chance that someone will go pro,” said Farmer, “…Yes, you want to make the money but it’s important to make the money work for you. You and your goals are extremely important and people should know the difference between retiring early or working until you’re in your 70’s and 80’s.”
Although the organization was launched in Birmingham, Farmer has reached hundreds of clients in other states like New York, Texas, Florida and California through her social media presence and aggressive marketing.
In addition, to social media she incorporates her public relations through speaking engagements, print and media outlets. “I’m getting more into running ads on social media to target the audience I’m trying to reach,” she said.
In 2022, she established her brand identity, incorporated visuals and made short- and long-term goals for her business to reach more people.
“The more I learned and the more I grew in the industry I knew it was time to elevate. I started understanding my demographics more, what I liked and what I didn’t like and when I started working in the [Bessemer City School System] that helped me tremendously as well,” Farmer said.
Since graduating college from University of West Alabama with a master’s degree in Adult and Continuing Education, Farmer has worked at Jefferson State Community College as well as Bessemer City High School.
Since launching Champs and Success, Farmer has received a lot of testimonials but the one that stuck out the most was from a former mentee who had a learning disability.
“His mom said he wouldn’t be graduating if it wasn’t for me and that really touched my heart. He was very smart and had a lot of skill sets but his case manager was trying to get him to settle and work at a retail warehouse and my client said no, I know how to do all of these other things I refuse to go there.”
Farmer believes that the case manager wasn’t fully aware of the client’s skills; therefore, she stepped in and assists him with continuing his education at a community college which was his ultimate goal.
“Helping him meant a lot to me. To get through to somebody who’s financially challenged, come from a low-income household and with a learning disability to graduate and most importantly believed in themselves and not settling spoke volumes.”
Born A Star
Farmer, 27, was born and raised on the east side of Birmingham, Alabama. “I was actually born at home on accident. My mom pushed me out on the bed and my daddy did the delivery,” she said.
She remembers being active and always playing sports most of her childhood and while attending Erwin High School, which is now Center Point, won a state championship for Erwin. “The girls’ basketball team was actually the first and only team to ever win a state championship at Erwin, in their history. And we were the first to win a state championship for Jefferson County as a girls basketball team [at that time],” said Farmer, who stands 6’0.
After graduating high school in 2013, she played basketball at Auburn University in Auburn, AL before transferring to the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she was ranked in the Top Ten in rebounds.
After graduating from UAB with a bachelor of communications degree in 2016, Farmer had an extra year of sports eligibility and attended the University of North Florida. In Florida she eventually trained to play professional basketball overseas, until one day her stomach began to hurt.
She drove herself to the nearest emergency room.
“I had my mom on the phone the entire time. The doctor was trying to do a procedure on me and I told them you cannot do anything to me and my mom and my family is eight hours away.”
Farmer decided to leave the hospital hoping the pain would go away only for it to get worse.
“The sharp pains were so bad one day. I couldn’t take it so I drove from Florida to Birmingham. My mom was trying to meet me halfway.”
Eventually doctors diagnosed her with endometriosis, a common condition where endometrial- like tissue that grows outside of a women’s uterus. After having surgery, Farmer had time to reflect on what she wanted to do.
“I had so many teammates that were in college for the wrong reasons. They were caught up in the wrong reasons for why they chose to attend certain schools but my mother was a big guidance for me and I wished other people had a mother like mine.”
Her mother, Kelly Farmer, made sure daughter took the right courses and studied under professors who had her best interest at heart.
“When I transferred my fifth year she told me you need to go somewhere that has the degree that you want to obtain. If they don’t have it don’t go wasting scholarship money. But other student athletes were focus on sports and not academics which ultimately lead them to having a degree but not a legitimate career. I really hate seeing and that’s what motivated me to reach back to the community.”