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Mental Health

Meet Shibbon Winelle, the Mother Behind the Bryce Gowdy Foundation

On Dec. 30, 2019, the Deerfield Beach (Fla.) community was jolted by the death of football player and IB student Bryce Gowdy, a 4-star wide receiver known for his talent on the football field, intelligence in the classroom, and affable aura among his friends and family. After his passing was ruled a suicide, his mother, Shibbon Winelle, and close friends launched The Bryce Gowdy Foundation (BGF) to highlight mental health in minority communities and teen football players.

To begin the interview, Winelle shared gratitude for her support team of friends and family who quietly purchased domain names following Bryce’s passing, in case she chose to honor him in the future. In the weeks following this, a football teammate of her son’s, Terrance ‘TeeJay’ Jackson, was murdered at his grandfather’s funeral. Days later, a dear friend of Bryce’s, Alexis Jane Marion, took her life by suicide just steps from where Bryce was laid to rest.

“The community responded with discussion on how to help the youth of our community persist. However, I noticed as more ideas were presented, the angrier Bryce, TeeJay, and Alexis’ friends became; it triggered suicidal ideation and attempts throughout their circle,” Winelle explains. “They didn’t feel heard and then I realized I needed to do something, because if my community doesn’t heal, then my two remaining Suns and I won’t be able to truly heal.” (‘Suns’ being the term that Winelle uses to refer to her three boys).

The week after Alexis’ homegoing, Winelle studied the resources secured for her and structured The Bryce Gowdy Foundation as it is seen today. “I called a meeting at my house and invited friends that wanted to honor Bryce. They spread the word, and that night, The Bryce Gowdy Foundation was established.”

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Winelle shared BGF’s mission to design a village network based on love and mindfulness while providing a space for youth to manage their overall well-being through mentorship, education, movement, and creativity. She realized that mental health can be affected by many stimuli, especially sex and intimacy.

“One thing I noticed that Bryce stated during our last night together that was also mentioned by friends was that “social media, music, tv shows, and movies are shoving it down our throats and it’s not fair!’ It’s crazy how they are able to identify what is affecting their sexual and mental health and how, but it doesn’t change the fact that they feel powerless to change it.”

The BGF offers initiatives including the Be7ieve Project and SEVENfor7. “The Be7ieve Project aims to de-stigmatize talk pertinent to mental health, emphasize anti-bullying, provide suicide prevention measures, and provide resources for psych-physical wellness. SEVENfor7 provides success through Education & Training, Camps & Tournaments, Advocacy & Research for Mental Health, and overall Health & Wellness of Student Football Athletes.” The minds behind BGF also present S7MBA, a social purpose brand in memory of Bryce where proceeds benefit the foundation.

In 2020, BGF hosted Beach Meditation and Painting with a Purpose events in connection to their mission. “If you know Bryce, then you know his favorite place is the beach and his favorite thing to do is meditate. Bryce also had amazing original artwork, raps, poems, and music he produced over the years. In formulating BGF, it was important that the foundation was authentic to the true nature of Bryce. Through the example of his life story and the energy and vibe that is Bryce, that is how we intend to bring forth our mission.”

[bf_image id="w99cnj78829fkphstpztzgn"] But Winelle doesn’t run BGF by herself, instead, it’s managed by Bryce’s high school and college friends, as well as experienced adult professionals, who like to refer to themselves as Gen Z and Millennials, respectively. The Gen Z advisory council and project managers gain executive-level experience, while the Millennial Board of Directors mentor the young directors on how to build and operate the foundation. “Plus,” Winelle says, “I figured what better way to give GenZ a voice than to make them the boss.”

Throughout BGF, the number seven takes on an important meaning. In 2011, after utilizing mental health services to heal from a series of traumatic and abusive events, Winelle, with the help of her sons, developed a business plan for an enterprise called ‘Perfect 7 Enterprise.’ This was based on the idea of the seven selves and aimed to address issues surrounding suicidal and runaway/trafficked youth and young adults. “Bryce was in eighth grade when I finished the plan and he told me, ‘Mommy, I’m gonna rock the number seven for you and we gonna make our dreams come true.’ By the time he finished 9th grade, we discovered through therapy that the goal in life should never be the perfection of self, but rather the growth of self.” As a result, ‘Perfect 7 Enterprise’ soon became Shibbon Winelle LLC.

Winelle also mentions starting her natural hair journey in 2009, causing Bryce to nickname her Mufasa for her lion-like mane and later going by the name Simba himself. “After changing ‘Perfect 7 Enterprise’ to my name, Bryce said he would add Simba and seven to his brand, making sure he earned the number seven in college and the NFL to stay aligned with himself.”

[bf_image id="5nwpfscnhv9srw23gpsxg88j"] In December, it’ll have been a year since Bryce passed and Winelle reflects on the progress of BGF. “I’ve never built a non-profit from the ground up, nor have I ever started a project with such a large team. The way ­­­BGF came together so seamlessly still blows my mind to this day, and I cannot take the credit for our success in such a short space of time. The team made the dream! Through grieving the loss of Bryce, TeeJay, Alexis, and navigating through so many more obstacles, trials, and tribulation, we push to make The Bryce Gowdy Foundation a reality and a facilitator of change in our community and beyond.”

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Nyala Thomas earned her B.S. in Media/Communication Studies with a Film Studies minor and continues at FSU's College of Motion Picture Arts Master of Fine Arts Program. 90% of her time is spent creating, whether that be through making YouTube videos and short films, or writing up scripts!
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