Although she didn’t get to walk a red carpet or mingle with stars, the 2020 ESPY Awards still provided Niah Woods with the thrill of a lifetime. The rising junior at Howard University was one of the recipients of the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award.
“I feel grateful and blessed. When I saw Billie Jean King say my name on TV, it was probably one of the highest honors I could ever receive, especially from someone who has made such a big impact in sports,” said Woods, who was recognized for her work with The Grassroot Project (TGP), an organization that uses the power of sport to advance health equity for young people in Washington, D.C.
The health programs call upon student-athlete volunteers from the local Division I institutions, American, Georgetown, George Washington and Howard, and focus on topics such as sexual health, nutrition and mental health. “With the curriculum we learn, we go to schools in D.C. and teach middle schoolers through games and activities,” said Woods, whose area is physical health and nutrition.
Currently at home with her family in Cincinnati, Woods looks forward to resuming her work with TGP when she returns to Washington, D.C. She recalled being inspired from her first day of training with the organization. The staff recognized her hard work and that led to her ESPY nomination.
“I’m grateful that The Grassroot Project saw potential in me,” said Woods, who will receive either a $10,000 college scholarship or a direct grant to an eligible nonprofit aligned with her work. “The fact that it’s helping other people stay positive and in good spirits means the world to me.”
During Woods’ first two years at Howard, she competed in both basketball and track and field. “My freshman year, I told myself I’m going to play two sports, it’s been my dream,” she said. “My coaches and my teammates really helped me through the process.”
When she returns to campus, she’s going to focus on track and field and continue her work with TGP. A psychology major with a double minor in chemistry and sociology, her long-term plan is to become a psychiatrist.
“Sports will be a part of my life forever,” she said. “Everybody in my family is athletic [her mother played basketball at University of Louisville]. If there comes an opportunity where I can compete after college or do some coaching, I’ll definitely take it.”
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