Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

A fight to step outside their comfort zone, led to a discovery of self, solace and serenity

By Jennifer L. Payne

Due to COVID-19, in May of this year, the Sound Mind Sound Body (SMSB) Football Academy launched an innovative virtual literacy program, SMSB E.L.I.T.E.  This program consisted of 50 Detroit Public School Community District student-athletes being given one-to-one literacy and reading comprehension tutoring, and mentoring in the areas of financial literacy, athletic training, and college preparedness.

All of the program’s student-athletes are from the city of Detroit, and most are from what many would call the “concrete jungle” areas of town.  They’re out here surviving the “jungle,” fighting though COVID, academically deprived, nutrient deprived, battling attention deficit, and battling unsettling house arrest. Yet and still, this is their comfort zone, the safest haven they know. So, why would they want to leave and travel 8 hours up north away from family and away from what’s familiar?  They didn’t.

In June, Travis Tidwell, Coach, Mentor and Program Coordinator for SMSB E.L.I.T.E. and Coach Curtis Blackwell, Co-Founder of Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy, came up with a plan to provide the SMSB E.L.I.T.E. student-athletes with an all-expense paid experience — a trip to the Upper Peninsula (UP) visiting Michigan Technological University and partaking in other amazing activities and sites along the way.

This was an opportunity to step outside their comfort zone, witness beauty first-hand, become one with nature, and to know and understand that there is more to life than the confines of the inner city. 

They fought tooth and nail.  Many did not want to go.  They didn’t want to leave their XBOX and/or PlayStation, their “homeboys” or girlfriend(s).  They didn’t want to leave all that they knew.

After much convincing from SMSB E.L.I.T.E. staff and coaches, in the wee hours of the morning of July 31st, a chartered bus full of student-athletes, coaches, staff and parent-volunteers, took off departing from the SMSB headquarters located on the east side of Detroit, making that 8-hour road trip to the UP.

Once they arrived, the students immediately took to social media with oohs and aahs capturing the breathtaking beauty that surrounded them.

During the 3-day excursion, for the first time ever, they witnessed water’s beauty via ferry, partook in a 10-mile bike ride around Mackinac Island, explored nature, visited and toured the Grand Hotel, toured the outer grounds of Michigan Technological University and scrimmaged football against MTU student-athletes, climbed Mont Ripley’s 440 ft. vertical drop hill, kayaked, and more.

Most of the students within the program became acquainted with one another on the field during little league or their high school football games.  During this country’s lowest point, COVID-19 pandemic, they developed a closer relationship because of the “E.L.I.T.E.” program.  And during a trip to the UP, they formed a bond and experienced an adventure they’ll never forget!

The Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy continues to live up to their mission of being more than “just a football camp.” They instill the importance of a sound mind and a sound body in each and every student-athlete they touch. 

Coach Curtis Blackwell said, “Life’s greatest lessons are learned through experiences. We show them the good and help them through the ‘bad’. We are so much more than ‘just a camp’. No matter the circumstance, we do our part to positively alter the course.  We help change lives.”

For more information on the Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy, please visit our website at

Click here to make a donation to the Sound Mind Sound Body Foundation, a 501(c)3 recognized organization.

Follow us on Instagram

Follow us on Twitter

Like and/or follow us on Facebook

Subscribe for the updates!