Nike selected 16 HBCU students and alumni who displayed proficiency in the arts and athletics to be members of its 2021 class of Nike Yardrunners, an initiative the company founded in 2020 to highlight HBCUs by featuring Yardrunners in Nike advertisements sporting HBCU gear.
“When selecting them it was like our theme was to show the duality of a student athlete, right? It’s like as a student athlete you can’t just come on campus and just play sports, right? You’re either a student leader, you either pledged a fraternity or a sorority service organization, you’re an entrepreneur who started a business, you started a foundation, you’re in student government,” Howard Alumna and campaign producer Ashley Henderson said.
Nike chose this year’s Yardrunners based on their demonstrated skill in the arts and athletics. The term “yardrunners’’ is used to signify how these students have “run the yard” at their particular schools.
Nike contacted the participants of the Yardrunners campaign through email and social media to explain the goal of the campaign. The Yardrunners formally met one another on Aug. 2 and began shooting content for the campaign at Morehouse College the following day.
This year’s Yardrunners showed great gratitude for being selected to be a part of the campaign. Howard University alumnus and former basketball player Solomon Mangham expressed what being a part of this campaign meant to his childhood self, having always been in love with the brand.
“It is really full circle for me, as I have always been a fan and consumer of Nike since a kid collecting Air Maxes and Jordan’s,” Mangham said. “So now being able to tell my story with the iconic, global brand is an amazing opportunity.”
Other Yardrunners, such as Delaware State University alumna and equestrian Dominique Pierre, were proud of the significance their participation in this campaign would have on Black youth and other HBCU students.
“Not only am I showcasing that brown females can be a part of a Nike campaign, but brown females do, in fact, ride horses,” campaign participant Dominique Pierre proudly said.
Grant Bennett, a Morehouse College alumnus and former baseball player, said that he’s grateful for what participating in this campaign means for HBCU students.
“Growing up, you only think that professional athletes or models can be highlighted in this way. The real reward is for every HBCU student, who can now see themselves within the scope of a Nike campaign by just following their passion,” Bennett said.
The campaign included dancers and cheerleaders- a breakthrough decision as cheerleading recently received recognition as an Olympic sport. Jennifer Gray, an Alabama A&M University alumna, and former cheerleader, was overjoyed to be the advocate for HBCU cheerleaders and all cheerleaders’ recognition as professional athletes through this campaign.
“Cheerleaders work as hard as any other sport, if not harder,” Gray said.
Other Yardrunners, like Tuskegee University alumnus, and notable football star, Chester Hutcherson III, said that they were happy for simply being recognized.
“I have never been the type of person to expect any type of glory or satisfaction out of the
hard work I’ve put in, but being given this amazing opportunity out the blue showed
me that what I am doing, isn’t going unnoticed,” Hutcherson III said.
Kentucky State University alumna, and former basketball star, A’ziaReed expressed similar sentiments and highlighted the impact of Nike spotlighting HBCUs and HBCU athletes.
“Just for our stories and where we’ve came from and what we stand for to be plastered over NIKE, a big brand, and now on different social media platforms definitely gives the opportunity for so many people to see us and our stories and to know that we are being acknowledged and our hard work isn’t going unnoticed,” Reed said.
HBCU alumni also worked behind the scenes to develop the campaign. Arinze Emeagwali and Rich Palmer are Howard alumni who drove the marketing aspect of the campaign, and Dex Robinson is a Virginia Union University alumnus, and former Yardrunner, who styled this year’s Yardrunners.
Participants were not allowed to disclose whether or not they were paid nor how much they were paid.
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