Eyekonz Empowers Philadelphia Girls with Message of Belonging

PHOTO BY ERIC ESPINO


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When she was a little girl, Jazmine Smith’s grandfather hung a huge mirror by the front door. Before Smith could leave the house, she would have to look in the mirror, deliver an “I am” affirmation and tell the reflection who she was.

“If you don’t know who you are,” her grandfather would say, “as soon as you walk out into that world, they’re going to tell you.”

So Smith very quickly learned who she was. She was a tall girl from North Philly who just wanted to play basketball and jump double Dutch, but was forced by her grandparents to play lacrosse and field hockey when she moved to the suburbs. The new sports opened up a new world and helped her further cement her identity.

Who does Smith see in the mirror today?  As founder and CEO of Eyekonz, the nonprofit she revived in 2013 to bring lacrosse and field hockey to girls in inner-city Philadelphia, Smith now spends her time helping a new generation of girls from Philadelphia tell the world who they are.

“None of my coaches can teach the game if the players don’t have a sense of themselves,” Smith said. “The nature of our curriculum is centered around making sure these kids have a sense of belonging.”







Establishing this sense of self means teaching not only lacrosse, but also African-American and Hispanic history. This way, even if a player may not see her place in the history of the game, she does see her place in the history of the world.

Smith knows how important it is. When she arrived in Villanova, on Philadelphia’s Main Line, she didn’t see many girls who looked like she did.

“It felt foreign,” Smith said. “But I had loving parents and grandparents who raised me, and that’s why I was able to be successful. That’s why I wanted to start this initiative. I wanted to give something greater than I had seen in the Philadelphia area.”

That she has. With support from a US Lacrosse and its Diversity and Inclusion National Grant Program, Eyekonz received national attention for starting lacrosse teams at some of the city’s most underserved high schools. They’ve also helped set up a team at Lincoln University, a historically black college outside Philadelphia. Next year, Eyekonz will host a team from China.

About 500 girls from all over Philadelphia participate in Eyekonz, which plans to expand to Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Fla. Self-discovery sometimes means leaving the city for the unfamiliar confines of suburbia.

Eyekonz recently headed up the Main Line to Havertown, to take part in the Trent Stetler Play Day, a tournament to raise awareness for mental health. After a game, Haverford’s players came up to exchange phone numbers. They said they’d meet up and go to the movies.

“This was monumental for our girls,” Smith said. “They were like, ‘Wow they really want to get to know us.’ That’s what this sport is all about.”

Eyekonz is worth knowing. This year, eight players participated in the US Lacrosse National Tournament in Delaware. One of the players is a goalie who made 37 saves in a game against Ridley. Afterward, again the suburban players had questions. Who was this goalie? Where did she come from?

The goalie was Kimona Evans. She came from Jamaica and then Southwest Philly. That was the first time she ever played goalie. 

And thanks to Eyekonz, Evans and her opponents know exactly who she is. 

By the Numbers
US Lacrosse Diversity and Inclusion Grant Program

$300,000

US Lacrosse’s investment in local organizations that encourage and empower the development of lacrosse participation in underrepresented communities.

35,000

Participants who have benefited from the grant program, which US Lacrosse started in 2014.

6

Grant categories: Girls’ Initiative, Urban Outreach, Community Impact, Event Support, Disability Access and BRIDGE.

Visit uslacrosse.org/diversity for more information.

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