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‘Why not you?’ The bold question that launched a Hall of Fame career, a foundation, and a school

As Seattle Seahawks fans, we know the origin story of “Why not you?” because Seattle’s franchise quarterback has shared it with us countless times. “Why not you?” is parental wisdom from Harrison Wilson III that his son, Russell, turned into a mantra which both guided and continues to define his career.

Seahawks.com has a touching video about Russell Wilson and his father, Harrison. In the video, Russell’s uncle, Benjamin Wilson, says:

“We’re all told there’s something we can’t do. Russell has faith. When you have this faith, you can overcome, even when you have no hope. It means you can ask yourself that rhetorical question that my brother would ask Russell, “Why not you?”

As 12s know, Russell Wilson often credits his father for his success. The two were very close. Sadly, Russell Wilson’s father passed away in 2010. Yet his legacy and his message live on through the Why Not You Foundation.

Established in 2014, this award-winning nonprofit organization is “dedicated to fighting poverty through education” and “empowering youth to lead with a why not you attitude.” Over the past seven years, the Why Not You Foundation, led by Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara, has, among other things, raised millions of dollars for cancer research, launched a teen empowerment campaign, and provided local students with college scholarships.

If the story of “Why not you?” stopped there, with a bold question leading to a Hall of Fame career and an inspirational foundation, it would be enough — more than enough. That isn’t where the story ends though; in part because Russell Wilson’s Hall of Fame career isn’t yet over.


On Oct. 28, 2020, the bold question went in a bold new direction when the Why Not You Foundation issued a press release announcing the launch of its first-ever Why Not You Academy in Washington state, just south of Seattle.

From that press release:

“We’ve always held the belief that life’s successes start with a good education, but recognize that access isn’t always created equally for all. The Why Not You Foundation was created with the concept of empowering youth to lead with a why not you attitude and that’s why it was important for our foundation to partner with Scott (Canfield), Garth (Reeves), and Cascade Public Schools to help open doors for kids from less fortunate backgrounds. This school is a longtime dream of ours and it was important for us to find a way to combine traditional classroom learning with community and mentorship-based activities, in order to prepare kids for the real world. Why Not You is based on the idea that it can start with one and our hope is that this school will be the first of many.”

— Russell Wilson and Ciara

From the Why Not You Academy website:

Our mission is bold: Re-imagine high school. | Create an innovative network of mentorship-based, deeper learning schools with, not for, the communities we serve. | Prepare students for success in college, career, and civic life.

Our vision is simple: To develop an inclusive community where every student has access to the opportunities they deserve and where every student graduates with the agency, experience, and skills they need to live an intentional, purposeful, and fulfilling life.


Originally slated to launch in 2020 as Midway Academy, the school was forced to postpone its opening because of the pandemic and the state’s “Stay Home” orders. During the delay, the school’s founders, Garth Reeves and Scott Canfield, approached the Why Not You Foundation. As Mr. Canfield tells it:

“We were fans of the work they were doing in our community to support children and families and saw how their vision and values aligned closely with ours. The partnership was a natural fit immediately. To reflect the partnership and to honor our co-founders, we renamed and rebranded the school as the Why Not You Academy.”

With an initial class of 100+ students from 45+ middle schools, there have been some challenges, particularly in light of how COVID-19 impacted learning.

“Opening a school is always a challenging endeavor. Opening a school in a pandemic is something we never could have imagined we’d encounter when we started this work. Our 9th graders haven’t had a normal, fully in-person school year since they were in 6th grade. We knew transitioning back to in-person learning was going to be challenging and that has proven true. It’s inspiring to see how our students and staff are handling it. It’s a big adjustment for everyone to make and I’m proud of how our school community has responded.”

In addition to receiving a $1.75M grant from the Why Not You Foundation, the Why Not You Academy has an ongoing relationship with Russell Wilson and Ciara.

“It’s an honor to have Russell and Ciara as co-founders of the school! They bring infectious energy and passion and do whatever they can to support youth in the community. They have been to campus and have been able to connect with our students virtually. They helped our students in Leadership Club select a mascot for the school (Go Lions!) and plan to visit frequently. We have been planning a few fun events that will involve them and our students. They are great ambassadors of the school and champion the work our staff and students are doing at WNYA.”

When asked what sort of involvement Why Not You Academy is looking for from the community, Mr. Canfield said:

“We are looking for mentors for students. … Additionally, if you’re willing to support students in our Leaving to Learn experiences, we could use volunteers to let students interview them about their careers and possibly job shadow and/or intern. To learn more about our mentoring program, contact Josefina Gonzalez at jgonzalez@wnyacademy.org, and to learn more about volunteering to support Leaving to Learn, contact Gwen Lennox at glennox@wnyacademy.org. You can also read more about the programs here.”


Circling back to the man whose bold question became a mantra that launched a Hall of Fame career, a charitable foundation, and the first in what is expected to be a series of schools:

There is absolutely no way to avoid the “thorns of life”. The key is not to dwell on the bad times, but to remember the effort asserted in accomplishing the positive moments. Each person must have a strong inner constitution!

— Harrison Wilson III


GALLERY

(Photos used with permission of Scott Canfield, co-founder of Why Not You Academy)

Go Hawks (and WNYA Lions)!