Young Terps Domonique '04 and Ashley '06 Foxworth working to make a difference in and out of the classroom.
By Jackie Zakrewsky
Meet the typical 20-something Terp couple and chances are you’ll find two people focused on building careers, picking up a graduate degree or two, and possibly starting a family.
Between them, there’s an NFL career, an M.A. in Teaching, a Harvard law degree, untold hours of community service, and an adorable one-year-old daughter, Avery.
But this high-achieving couple is just getting started—with plans for a career in education reform, an M.B.A., and a post-NFL career in the works, not to mention, at some point, baby #2.
In mid-April these dynamic alumni of the College of Arts and Humanities returned to campus when Domonique received the college’s 2012 Distinguished Alumnus Award. The annual award recognizes a highly accomplished alumnus of the college.
Domonique and Ashley also took time out recently to discuss the pivotal experiences that have shaped their success.
Redefining the Role of the Professional Athlete
As an American studies major, Domonique found his intellectual home, particularly in a class on race in American culture taught by Professor Sheri Parks. Until then, there were “so many phenomena that I remembered seeing but I couldn’t explain just involving race,” he said.
“This was the first time that it kind of cleared up the picture, the first time where I felt like, ‘Oh, this is why, and I understand,’ ” he said.
Typically the only male—“and always the only black person”—in his major classes, Domonique said his classmates routinely turned to him for the “black perspective” on the topic du jour.
“Sometimes it was offensive,” he said, “but also it was a bit liberating in a way… It gave me this new perspective, that while there are stereotypes for all groups, it just feels like for minorities especially…any action by a fellow member of the group reflects upon everyone.”
His major also gave him greater insight into the stereotypes he bumped up against as an African American football player. Never mind that he attended a magnet school in science, started at Maryland midway through his senior year of high school, and finished his college degree in three and a half years.
“I recognize that my being a professional athlete probably did more harm to my community than good,” he said, “because I always imagined there were some kids sitting at home saying, ‘Well, I want to be like him.’ All that they saw of me was in college on Saturdays running around playing football and then in the NFL on Sundays.”
By his sophomore year of college, Domonique wanted “to present a more realistic image, a more positive image” of himself and other athletes. An assignment in one of Professor Parks’ classes inspired his first foray in social activism. He created a one-day program to bring boys from a D.C. housing project to campus “to see the whole picture” of what it meant to be a college athlete.
Since then, he has remained committed to improving the lives of urban youth. In Denver, he started a weekly writing class for teens of the Bronco Boys and Girls Club and helped raise money to open the Darrent Williams Memorial Teen Center in memory of his friend and teammate. In Baltimore, he started Baltimore BORN (Boys Opportunity and Resource Network), a nonprofit group to help boys in grades 5-12 develop skills for lifelong success and learning.
For the future he is considering setting up a foundation that distributes grants to organizations.
“I know the danger in doing that is that there’ll probably be a lot of my money that’ll go to programs that will eventually fail,” he said, “but I assume that at some point we’ll hit a homerun and we’ll find some innovative new program.”
Domonique points to his first job as another motivating force for his community involvement. At age 14, he worked at Camp Greentop, a residential camp for adults and children with various disabilities—physical, mental, and emotional—in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. He recalled that the first full day of showering people and doing diaper changes and feedings left him exhausted. He called his mom and said, “Ma, you got to come get me. I hate this.”
His mother showed “a little motherly sympathy” and told him, “Well, I didn’t raise quitters. You said you wanted this job. I love you. Good luck.” Domonique finished his stint at the camp.
“That experience helped me grow as a man and gave me a perspective of the privileges I have, just by being healthy,” he said. “That just put me in the frame of mind of always wanting to help.”
Domonique settled on football as his sport when he was eight years old, trying to step beyond the shadow of his older brother, Dion, who favored basketball. An Art Monk camp Domonique attended five years later ended with a “devastating” evaluation stating he would be lucky to play high school football and would never play in college.
His athletic prowess at Baltimore’s Western Tech High School led to about a dozen full football scholarships to Division I schools. He had a standout career at Maryland where he was starting cornerback since his sophomore year. After graduation, he spent three years with the Denver Broncos and one year with the Atlanta Falcons. He returned to his home state in 2009 as a free agent, signing a four-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens.
A knee injury on the first day of training camp in 2010 sidelined him that season and most of 2011. In early March he was let go from the Ravens, but that hardly marks the end of his NFL career. In late March he was unanimously elected president of the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA).
First elected to the NFLPA as a player representative in 2007, he became one of the youngest vice presidents ever to be voted onto the executive committee and played a pivotal role in ending the NFL lockout last summer.
During his two-year term as president, Domonique plans to hit the books again when he enters Harvard Business School in 2013. When he’s not reading Forbes or taking classes to keep his academic skills sharp, he gravitates toward nonfiction titles, such as Outliers or Gang Leader for A Day, that are “100 percent American studies.”
He also has a growing collection of civil rights memorabilia ranging from a 1919 Black Star Line stock certificate signed by black nationalist Marcus Garvey and a polite but pointed letter from Malcolm X responding to a white critic to plenty of mementos from the 2008 presidential election.
“I know that I’ve caught a lot of heat for being too involved in other things and not being focused enough on football,” Domonique said. “It’s something that I’m unapologetic for.”
Changing the Face of Education
“What are you going to be—an English teacher?”
Ashley heard her share of that age-old question after declaring English as her major.
“People would assume that’s the only thing you can be, which isn’t true,” she said.
She would answer no, little suspecting that the “aha” moments that would spur an interest in education reform were just around the corner.
Facebook had recently come out and at the time was limited to college students. Chatting with a girlfriend from Bunker Hill Elementary, the D.C. public school she attended through third grade, Ashley said, “Where’s so-and-so? Where’s so-and-so?” She grew “excited about reconnecting” with old friends, she said, “but it turns out some people weren’t on Facebook because they weren’t in college.”
Until then, “I never really thought much of my fancy private schools,” she said. “It made me realize education is something to not take for granted. So many children don’t get the education that I took for granted.”
Moment #2 soon followed. During her senior year, she saw a Teach for America poster that read “education is our civil rights issue” and said to herself, “Oh, my God. That’s so true. I need to do this.”
Through Teach for America, she spent two years at Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C., where she taught 9th- and 10th-grade English.
“I knew when I went into Teach for America that I wanted to do education reform,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t say the schools needed reform if I hadn’t experienced them.”
Teaching was “really tough,” she said, but she saw the difference she could make in the classroom.
As an African American teacher, she said she had a different experience than many of the program’s other teachers, the majority of whom were white.
“D.C. is a very segregated city,” she said. “White people were just very different to [the students] where I was young and black, so a lot of them saw me as their older sister” or even a peer.
The situation had its advantages, notably in the kinds of relationships she had with her students, she said. But she also encountered “a boy yelling from the opposite end of the hall, ‘Hey, Miss Manning, you looking sexy today.’ I didn’t want to make a bigger scene than it already was, so it had its challenges, but I loved teaching,” she said.
After her second year of teaching, Ashley spent the summer finishing coursework for an M.A. in teaching from American University and that fall she headed to Harvard Law School. She considered graduate programs in education but ultimately settled on law school. With education reform as her career goal, she focused her electives on civil rights and education law.
In December 2010 daughter Avery was born and Ashley juggled the demands of family with her last semester of law school. She cites her mother as the ideal role model of a woman who excels both as a mother and as a professional. That’s “the example I want to set for my daughter,” she said.
In high school, while attending Stone Ridge, a small Catholic school for girls, Ashley volunteered every week through the school’s “Social Action” program. One day a week, the school released students for a half day to volunteer.
“That was very important to making me who I am,” she said.
Maryland also made a difference in her life. After Stone Ridge, she was “excited by the racial diversity” of Maryland. At Maryland she joined the Black Student Union and participated in the Honors Program. Her experience at the university made her so much more “well-rounded,” she said, than if she’d gone to an Ivy League for her undergraduate degree.
“You’re so impressionable in college and you meet so many different types of people, and learning about each of those backgrounds and understanding their perspectives I think is really, really important,” she said.
So strongly does she feel about her time at the university, she “prays to God” that daughter Avery goes to Maryland.
Last July Ashley passed the Maryland bar exam and is taking time to carefully chart her next steps. With her husband’s plans to attend business school next year taking shape, she also looks forward to the day she and Domonique can work together on a community service initiative.
“It will be all the more effective and powerful and meaningful,” she said.