A Legacy of Women’s Leadership: Executive Director Katrina Owens On Decades of DC SCORES Impact

1 (5).png Katrina Owens has served poet-athletes at DC SCORES for more than 16 years.

When Katrina Owens first heard about DC SCORES, she was a 4th grade language arts teacher at Fletcher Johnson Educational Center. A colleague introduced her to staff from the nonprofit who were recruiting coaches at Fletcher Johnson and Owens jumped at the opportunity so she could work more closely with her students after school.

“DC SCORES allowed me to build relationships with families outside of the classroom,” she says. “It was an incredible opportunity to get to know families on the sidelines at games or at events. It broke down barriers to getting them into the classroom.”

Building relationships between young people to empower them in their communities has been a common thread throughout Owens’ career and continues to influence the work she does today as Executive Director of DC SCORES.

“DC SCORES was a really powerful tool that made my classroom and our school better by creating positive opportunities for our kids to build relationships and to celebrate young people,” says Owens. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to now lead the organization, expanding the impact I saw all those years ago in my classroom.”

2 (3).png Owens began her time with DC SCORES as a coach at Fletcher Johnson Educational Center. Here, she and her oldest son David pose with a team at DC SCORES Fall Frenzy.

Creating Powerful Relationships Between Youth

Owens first got involved in not-for-profit work as an undergraduate student at Eastern Mennonite University. Throughout her college years, her work focused on international conflict resolution. After graduating, she worked with Seeds of Peace, an organization dedicated to building bridges between Israeli and Palestinian youth, which inspired her to continue to work with young people. Later, she took a role with Jamaicans for Justice, a Kingston-based human rights organization combating police violence in Jamaica.

Her work with youth led her to pursue opportunities in education in the United States. She served as a substitute teacher in Ohio and also worked as a liaison through the court system on victim-offender mediation. She joined Teach For America, a nonprofit that recruits diverse leaders into classrooms to address educational inequity across the United States. Teach for America placed Owens at Fletcher Johnson in 2002, where she drew on her background in conflict resolution to support the students in her class.

KO Story (1).png The DC SCORES Fletcher Johnson team poses for a photo with James Earl Jones for the organization’s 10 year anniversary.

“I know from my time as a teacher that the power of that relationship-building on teams and between adults can really impact the school day,” she says. “That is critically important to what we do. I want to honor that relationship building and to empower DC SCORES coaches to lead and create safe and positive spaces for kids.”

DC SCORES impact extends well beyond poet-athletes time in the program, says Owens. Even as neighborhoods experience changes, DC SCORES has always been a way for kids to relate to their community. “DC SCORES is an identity for young people even when they grow into adults,” notes Owens. “They remember being an important part of that team, finding their voice, and connecting with others in their neighborhood.”

3 (1).png Planning and executing the first One Night One Goal in 2018 marked an important achievement for Owens.

“An Incredible Moment In Time”

Owens first joined DC SCORES in 2006, after Fletcher Johnson closed and the nonprofit recruited her to start its middle school program. Throughout her 16 years with DC SCORES, Owens has witnessed numerous instances of powerful impact firsthand.

Some of her favorite memories are from poetry slams, including the first time the competitions were held in high school auditoriums instead of at other event spaces in DC. “I loved the opportunity for young people to be on stage in their community and be celebrated,” she says.

Slams have also served as moments to celebrate wider historical milestones. For instance, Owens vividly remembers the 2008 slam when poet-athletes showed their excitement about the election of President Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States. “It was such an incredible moment in time for our young people and for our country, and you could see and feel that on stage,” she shares.

Her proudest professional achievement at DC SCORES is the first One Night One Goal in 2018. The annual gala — which has been co-hosted by MLS club D.C. United since its inception — brings together DC SCORES supporters from across the District at Audi Field for the biggest fundraising event on the nonprofit’s calendar.

“The first One Night One Goal was a symbol of a new partnership with D.C. United and the powerful impact that the program can have on young people,” she recalls. “It felt like a new trajectory for the organization, and brought together individuals from different points in DC SCORES’ history.”

KO Story.png Katrina makes opening remarks at the 2022 Our Words Our City poetry showcase.

Building Space for Women and Girls

As far as Owens is aware, there has never been a male Executive Director of DC SCORES. In fact, the organization has been women-led since it was first founded in 1994 by DC public school teacher Julie Kennedy, who began a soccer and poetry program at Marie Reed Elementary School to provide afterschool activities for girls in her class.

DC SCORES’ organizational focus on women and girls has always appealed to Owens. As a coach, she took her girls soccer team to watch the women’s professional soccer team, the Washington Freedom, at RFK stadium in 2003. Seeing professional players like Mia Hamm was a moving experience. “It was the first time I saw women playing professionally in person, and it was certainly the first time my students had seen it,” Owens recalls. “It was really powerful.”

“I think it is a really powerful thing that DC SCORES started with girls,” she continues. “We were first to be serving girls and that it’s always been an opportunity for women to lead in this space.”

Today, as Executive Director, Owens is excited about being able to introduce more young poet-athletes to women role models. In 2020, DC SCORES launched an official partnership with the NWSL team, the Washington Spirit.

Earlier this year, the Spirit donated hundreds of sports bras to DC SCORES poet-athletes who need them. “We have heard from so many female coaches and students about how important that donation was,” Owens says. “I think it speaks to the unique power of having women in leadership and having a different perspective.”

Ultimately, Owens is proud to be one of the many women in positions of authority that DC SCORES poet-athletes encounter during their time in the program. “Representation matters,” she stresses. “It matters to have young girls or other women see women lead.”

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