Ericka Graham remembers exactly what motivated her to apply for college.
"When you’re from a background like mine," she acknowledged onstage at Eccelsia, site of the fourth annual Game Day Gala. "You think of college as a place to party, and have fun and get internships."
But in 2014, Ericka, a low-income high school educator turned college readiness instructor, wrote "Why do you want to go to college?" on her classroom’s white board and was taken aback by her students’ answers – and how much they differed from her own.
"When you come from a background of poverty, you want to go to college to break that cycle," she told the packed room of past and present Houston Texans players.
One was her own husband, NFL tight-end Garrett Graham and co-founder of Project 88, an organization which aims to improve the student to guidance counselor ratio in local under-served communities.
Additional members of the Texans family including Kevin and Caroline Walter, Hannah and Cal McNair, Holly and Austin Alvis, Amanda and Jon Weeks, Meghan Cushing, and LaToya and Chester Pitts – who co-emceed the Friday night soiree with KHOU-11’s Chita Craft – donned jeans and jerseys for the cause.
By evening’s end, they scored an educational touchdown and raised a record $360,000 toward initiatives with Advise TX, EMERGE Summer Support Program and BridgeYear advisers.
"I truly believe that when we add more advisers, we’re helping entire generations of families," Ericka explained.
ArtAttack transformed the space into an upscale tailgate – a far different scene than the one that pastor Chris Seay’s congregation worships in on Sundays – complete with Monarch Hospitality Group’s steak frites carving station, Parmesan truffle fries, wild boar pasta and Wagyu sliders.
Later, raffle ticket-holders played a competitive round of "Heads or Tails" for a $2,500 IW Marks gift card.
And before DJ Kenny Klips kicked off the dance party, Mayde Creek High School college adviser Zachary Lawrence helped Ericka present his student and guest speaker, Arman Yazdian, with a burnt orange jersey from the University of Texas at Austin, where Yazdian – a first-generation college student – plans to enroll next fall.