YES Inc. Hosts Fundraiser Event At Renaissance New York Harlem Hotel

June 16, 2024

By Lil Nickelson

Youth Education Through Sports, Inc. (“YES Inc.”), a Harlem-based not-for-profit, tax-exempt, 501 (c) (3) organization hosted a fundraising event on Thursday, May 30th, 2024, at the new Renaissance New York Harlem Hotel’s Lindy Room.

The hotel is located at 233 West 125th Street, Harlem, NY, and the four-hour SMARTBALL Champion fundraising event began promptly at 6 pm EST. YES Inc. invited people to be a SMARTBALL Champion contributor that evening for $250.00. The event included a silent auction of sports memorabilia donated by professional athletes from MLB, NBA, NFL, pro tennis and pro golf players, overseas trips, great chef dinners, and more.

YES Inc.’s mission since its founding in 1980 is to assist “in-need” student-athletes get college and career-ready. YES Inc. created the SMARTBALL Initiative along with the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (“IUME”) at Teachers College, Columbia University to prepare the minds of the student-athletes to score competitively on the college admission tests (SAT & ACT), NYS Regents exams with the goal of meeting freshman eligibility requirements to become a NCAA college student-athlete. Once that is achieved, the next goal is to graduate from college as they also prepare for successful careers in life.

Former professional basketball players in attendance included Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Kenny Charles, Smush (William Henry) Parker III, and Ruthie Bolton. They mingled and mixed, talking and photographing with various people in attendance. The program began with the spotlight on the group’s impact on NYC student-athletes who have graduated college and have gone on to enjoy successful careers in many diverse professions.

Four alumni student-athletes (Lika Adams, Matthew Mayers, Kenjon J. Jones, and Tanika Price) spoke briefly about their journey from high school to graduating college to their current careers. The retired professional athletes also got to speak about their individual journeys and the real need for organizations like YES, Inc. in our communities. The auctioneer was introduced before the silent auction time was closed, and he announced the winners with photo opportunities following. Interview time was near the end, but since I arrived there thirty minutes in advance, I had already completed this step.

More than five hundred student-athletes participate in SMARTBALL Initiative programs annually representing high school varsity programs and middle school community/ grassroots /AAU programs in the five NYC boroughs, Long Island, Westchester, and New Jersey. Ninety percent plus (90%+) of the student-athletes graduate from high school on time, and seventy-five to eighty percent (75-80%) of the student-athletes that receive SAT prep go to college. Those are impressive results for 44 years because of the vision of YES Inc.’s CEO Russel Shuler, its board members, alumni, and other people who have championed YES Inc.’s mission over the years like my AKA Soror Michelle Hardy and her brother Michael Hardy.

During the evening, I spoke with the board members like Abner Larrieux and Jeff Anderson, parents of alumni Peter and Esiene Mayers, retired players like Smush Parker and Nate Archibald, as well as CEO Russel Shuler.

I came to the event wanting to ask how the recent agreement between the NCAA and the “powerful” five conferences would impact college sports going forward. The agreement would allow colleges and universities to begin paying college athletics directly for playing for their schools. Nate Archibald feels it is not a good thing for sports because the schools with the money will recruit the cream, and small schools like the two he attended (Arizona Western and UTEP) along with the HBCUs like Earl Monroe attended (Winston Salem State) will not be able to compete financially.

Smush Parker eloquently summarized the pros and cons of this agreement. Pro is, “It’s about time the student-athletes get paid for bringing in the money their talents have earned these institutions over the years, it’s about time.” Con is whether the schools will not only siphon off all the talent to the big five conferences but do so with no system in place to safeguard that student-athletes graduate with careers to embark on. Enrolling our youth in organizations like YES, Inc. will become even more important to the future of our student-athletes.

Parents are encouraged to become and stay actively involved with their student-athletes from middle school through undergraduate school. Seeing and talking with parents like Peter & Esiene Mayers about their journey with their son Matthew and their continued devotion after he graduated college only brings home the point; parents’ work is never done.

Two YES program alumni summed it up best. “Mr. Shuler has been a consistent mentor for me throughout my career, so much so that I have taken on a career in education with sports as a vehicle to impact youth.” Another said, “Mr. Shuler is not accepting “no,” he’s demanding YES.” The SMARTBALL Champion fundraising goal is $250,000, which will run over the next six to eight months, so you still have time to contribute to a very worthwhile organization.

They are still accepting DONATIONS for the YES Inc. SMARTBALL Champion Fundraising Campaign from individuals and corporations. 

Lil Nickelson

Lil Nickelson is a Senior Consultant with an MBA degree focused on Finance and Financial Management Services from New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business. Skilled in sales, management, business development, marketing strategy, and social media, with a history of working in the food and beverages industry. Her column “Dining with Miss Lil” has been featured in Harlem newspapers and with Harlem World Magazine for numerous years.

Photo Credits: By Rudy Collins.

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