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Diversity Program FLAME Inspires Leaders Of Tomorrow

By Daniel Kramer | June 05, 2015, 12:05 p.m. (ET)

The United States Olympic Committee welcomed 29 undergraduate and graduate students for its annual FLAME program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on May 27-June 3.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Bright minds basked in the glow of Olympic and Paralympic movements over the past week during the United States Olympic Committee’s annual FLAME program, held in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere (FLAME), in its 22nd year and fueled by revitalized leadership, has enhanced its scope with the ambitious – yet realistic – goal of becoming one of the nation’s premier diversity summits for undergraduate and graduate students.

Hand-picked by USOC CEO Scott Blackmun in 2012 to lead a brand new diversity and inclusion department, Jason Thompson has administered sustained initiatives with the goal of filling leadership roles with women and people of color.

USOC Director of Diversity & Inclusion Jason Thompson presents entrepreneur Sheila Johnson with a plaque during the 22nd annual FLAME program on May 27 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“No longer can we ask the question,” Thompson said. “We have to be the answer.”

It starts at the grassroots level. Equally vital to filling these roles today, Thompson says, is finding leaders for tomorrow. Appeal 29 eager adolescents, plant them within the thick of the Olympic and Paralympic movements and the foundation is established.

This is FLAME – a program that features workshops with an array of USOC employees, outings that showcase colorful Colorado and guest speakers that carry credence of success.

And the messaging, whether delivered from a sports professional or business mogul, is crafted in an applicable manner.

“They’re very relatable because they’re real,” Gervon Williams, a senior at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, said regarding the speakers at this year’s week-long program. “These people are in their offices or training every single day and taking these few hours to talk to us. They’re really giving it to us the real way, and I love that about this program and about the speakers.”

Take a primary topic of discussion in an early panel: goal setting.

“It’s how you don’t get complacent,” said Elana Meyers Taylor, guest speaker and 2015 bobsled world champion. “The number one goal of an Olympic athlete is to win gold. What about after that? You have to keep pushing your limits.”

Meyers Taylor highlighted a star-studded cast of guests, which also included five-time Olympic basketball player and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards and Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television.

Despite the wealth of accolades represented, the streamline of insight has largely emerged from the students.

“They asked very intelligent questions, that was awesome to see,” Meyers Taylor said. “They were very engaged the entire time. They’re an audience that was really interested in learning more about sport and also having a footprint in the sports community.”

Added Johnson: “I think they felt empowered. I think they felt as though they have real understanding of what’s happening out there in the real world of sports, and what they need to do and how they can turn it around.”

FLAME successfully complemented its messaging with tasks that hold tangible value, particularly its inclusive sports solutions project, where students created detailed and diplomatic pitches geared to drive diversity within sports organizations. The goal is to spark creativity while creating camaraderie.

“As students, we come from all over, and I feel that the most important thing is to learn from each other,” Williams said. “That’s the best part about (FLAME). That’s how we form those connections and relationships.”

Away from the work, students took in Colorado’s charm, venturing to Garden of the Gods Park, the world-renowned The Broadmoor hotel, a professional soccer game in Denver and more.

And these ventures will likely continue to increase in coming years.

Thompson and his team are already strategizing for how to drive future FLAME attendance even further – working diligently and cross-departmentally – all with full support of Blackmun and the USOC.

“They’re so committed,” Johnson said. “It’s the people in leadership that have really got to continue to move it along, and continue helping these young people move up the ladder in sports.”

FLAME Class of 2015

Name  College Hometown
Monet Samone Bland
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts 
Katherine Gennelle Chatman
The University of Alabama  Orlando, Florida
Alec Gabriel Contag
Keck Graduate Institute
McLean, Virginia
Elisa Drummond
Temple University
Marlboro, Maryland
Meghan Lee-Anne Anelamailanimai Everett  
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Tatum, Texas
Mario Flores
Texas Tech University
Houston, Texas
Ashley Franklin
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis  
Indianapolis, Indiana
Jose Garcia
University of Texas of The Permian Basin
Dallas, Texas
Samantha Danielle Garcia 
University of Denver 
Thornton, Colorado
Agustin Alejandro Gonzales
Texas Tech University
Houston, Texas
Toddrick LeSean Gotcher
Texas Tech University
Garland, Texas
Laurelle Day Holley  Drexel University
Media, Pennsylvania
Elvin Jarrod James
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Goldsboro, North Carolina
Bianca Jones 
University of Colorado Boulder
Aurora, Colorado
Kathryn Mary LaRosa
Virginia Commonwealth University
Culpeper, Virginia
Rishawn Marshall 
Georgia State University 
Queens, New York
Danielle Heceta McArdle
University of Central Florida
Wheeling, West Virginia
Bryan Munoz
Northeastern University
Teaneck, New Jersey
José Luis Muñoz Jr.
University of Kansas 
Rio Rico, Arizona
Wura Olusekun
University of Connecticut
Revere, Massachusetts
Gabrielle Pringle
University of Montevallo
Brent, Alabama
Summer Roberson
Rice University
Houston, Texas
Denisha Robinson
Temple University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Christian Tovar-Vargas
Trinity University 
San Antonio, Texas
Francesca Turner
Georgia State University 
Lithonia, Georgia
Julian Turner
Trinity University
Katy, Texas
Xiaohan Wen
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Beijing, China
Jasmine Yvonne Wilkins
Nova Southeastern University
Miami, Florida
Gervon Dwayne Williams
Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania