Black History Month Interview Series: Mikayla Campbell
February is Black History Month, and we want to honor this important month through the celebration and amplification of Black Women changing the game in the wellness space. Meet Mikayla Campbell, the Program Development Manager of Street Soccer USA Los Angeles. She is invigorating her community through the use of soccer as social change, and community activation. She is also a fitness trainer who seeks to empower young female athletes of color to exude confidence.
What drew you to the wellness/ fitness movement?
I have always been an athlete. It almost surprises me that in college, I never quite fathomed a career in health/wellness or sport, despite the role that movement had played in my life up until that point. Now, I understand that fitness is central to my existence in this world—at the core, it is my passion. I’ve defined my purpose as my ability to serve myself and others by inspiring, educating, and cultivating communities rooted in culture, diversity, and movement. I am humbled that the various professional commitments—be that group fitness instruction, coaching youth sports, or existing as the primary driver of soccer programs for low-income and marginalized youth—I carry out are intersectional and overlap, allowing me to use my knowledge in a range of areas to influence people with a similar or shared experience.
My professional career specifically began with an internship at LA84 Foundation, legacy of the 1984 Olympic games and grantor of my current organization, Street Soccer USA—that of which I was confident was passion aligned during a time of post-grad uncertainty. This internship turned Foundation Assistant role positioned me for candidacy in my current function as Program Development Manager with SSUSA. By entering into this sports-based youth development space I quickly began to articulate and identify that the tools that I had gained over the years as a multi-sport athlete, had lent themselves to my success in so many spheres, and that I would be remiss not to provide communities with an innate awareness of how to use sport to propel forward as more prepared, confident, balanced, and self-aware individuals.
How has fitness contributed to your growth as a person, and how does it feel to be able to share your passions with others?
Around the time in which I was entering the workforce post-graduation, I was likely my least active. And looking back, I can undoubtedly assert that the spells in my life that have been the most challenging mentally/emotionally have typically been movement averse. Fitness provides me with clarity. It provides me with a deeper level of appreciation for the things my body has done, and what it will do in the future. By prioritizing my health/wellness and fitness goals, I can influence other people to do the same and understand the depth to which a healthy mind and body make for a happier life. I acknowledge that my ability to move is undeniably a privilege that I refuse to take for granted. Although there was a point in my life where sport and fitness functioned as catalysts of my own trauma more than anything else, I find it my responsibility to create safe and informed spaces of sport and wellness that speak to the unique needs and experiences of women and people of color. My job is to make sure that the next person does not have a detrimental experience with a sport that strips them of their ability to absorb the wealth that wellness can and should provide. To put it simply, the aptitude to share my passions with others is rewarding, challenging and energizing all at the same time. I am doing the work that I was called to do.
What does being a black woman in the wellness space mean to you?
Being a black woman in the wellness space gives me the opportunity to share my experiences without reservation, and even further, to control the narrative that is most often thrust upon us. My experience as a black woman is central to my ability to lend what I’ve learned to the next group of people. The reality is that in a general sense, health and wellness are deeply rooted in implications of mistrust and disillusionment as it is understood by black people through a westernized or Eurocentric lens. As a black woman, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to use my story to encourage people to question the information that they are fed and to then explore alternative practices that are best suited for their specific needs culturally and biologically.
You work with Street Soccer USA Los Angeles, what does it mean to you to be able to bring wellness and fitness to youth communities?
Our strategic vision here in Los Angeles revolves around our community club expansion and vision of a street league model that eliminates the pay to play model that prices so many youth out and serves as a barrier to the sport. We envision building a network of community clubs based out of housing projects and community-based organizations that represent unique communities and come together on a regular basis to compete. Through our work in Watts we’ve learned that many youth and adults choose not to cross housing project lines because of the uncertainty, it presents them. We want to work to eradicate said barriers and continue to provide safe spaces to play that serve to build community and provide youth and adults with more opportunities to grow. Perhaps the most rewarding of my ability to participate in community engagement using soccer as a vehicle to implement social change is the impact that I’ve had on black boys and girls who have perhaps never touched a soccer ball.
Considering you work with youth, how would you like to contribute to the wellness/fitness space to leave it more evolved than you found it?
Personally, it’s important to me to leverage our community events and tournaments to intentionally integrate health and wellness practices outside of soccer into our work. Seven years ago I eliminated meat from my diet. Two years ago I eliminated fish and dairy. And just ten days ago I started becoming hyperaware of my consumption of wheat and soy (despite my weakness for vegan baked goods). Anyways, since making these changes I’ve witnessed significant improvement in the function and fitness of my body. And while I don’t expect to run into the communities I service shouting from the rooftops that “meat is the devil, go vegan” because that’s not at all culturally sensitive or realistic, I continue to feel a commitment to support their exposure to alternative wellness practices—mind, body, and spirit.
And so, then we have to ask the question of what this looks like. When we host these community events in which we often end up serving the whole housing project, we have to be more intentional about not only the food that we are providing but also the companies/restaurants we are working with to cater the food—opting to choose local partners that will pour back into the community. While I anticipate we might naturally face some pushback as a result of the deep-seeded miseducation that these communities encounter, I understand this to be a long term project that I’m excited about as it directly impacts people that look like me.
To learn more about Mikayla, find her on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/mikayyylaaa/.