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About the Champion Academy


The Champion Academy Extreme Mentoring & Empowerment Initiative (Champion Academy) is a trauma-responsive mentoring program providing urban teens in poverty the critical accountability, consistency and support necessary to overcome obstacles and maximize their potential in school, at home and in the community.


Founded in 2015 by NFL Super Bowl Champion and former teen in poverty, Roland Williams, the Champion Academy combines firsthand knowledge of the cultural nuances of urban teen culture along with proven mentoring fundamentals to produce unprecedented academic and social emotional outcomes. Program elements include:


  • Summer Orientation
  • Member Accountability
  • College & Career Readiness Training
  • Community Service
  • E-Mentoring
  • Exposure Opportunities
  • Extra-Curricular Activities
  • Monthly Meet Ups



The Champion Academy serves hundreds of urban teens in the Rochester region referred by principals, teachers, police officers, social workers, judges and/or community stakeholders as students in desperate need of "extreme mentoring" to graduate from high school and become positive and productive citizens.


Recommended students must be full-time students in grades 7-12 living in poverty.  Members must also have THREE or more of the following research-based risk factors for dropping out of school:


  • Failing grade in one or more core subjects
  • Multiple school suspensions
  • Low standardized test scores
  • Living in a single-parent home
  • Excessively disruptive in school
  • Overage for a grade level
  • Lives in extreme poverty
  • Experienced multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)



Rochester, New York is facing an unprecedented teen crisis that threatens the future economic health and workforce quality of the entire region. Currently home to some of the highest rates of childhood poverty, extreme poverty and fatherless homes in the nation, thousands of Rochester teens are growing up in urban neighborhoods infested with gangs, drugs, violence, abuse, suicide, teenage pregnancy, obesity, school dropouts, incarceration and unhealthy attitudes towards future success.  


Without proactive guidance at home to teach these teens the strategies necessary to overcome their toxic environment, thousands of traumatized, undisciplined and unprepared students flood into school districts unable to address their complex academic, social and emotional needs. 


To date, the Rochester City School District (RCSD) bears the burden of educating thousands of these challenged teens. Despite spending the most per student of any large school district in New York State, the results have been horrific:


  • RCSD middle schools have the lowest English and mathematics performance in the state.


  • RCSD has the second lowest high school graduation rate of any school district in the state.


  • RCSD suspension rates for 13-17 year-old students are among the highest in the nation, averaging about 90 suspensions for every 100 students. 


  • RCSD has one of the highest dropout rates for African-American and Latino males in the nation.


  • RCSD students who drop out of high school are eight times more likely to end up incarcerated than students who graduate.


While there is no ‘simple fix’ for Rochester’s teen crisis, it’s time to confront what isn’t working.


Blaming school districts and educators is not the answer. Teachers inherit far too many traumatized students with poor study habits, disruptive behavior and limited desire to retain educational lessons. When conflicts arise, miscommunication and confrontation lead to decreased participation, school suspensions, expulsion or dropping out of school. For NYS taxpayers, each dropout costs an alarming average of $300,000 in government subsidies and support over their lifetime. 


Supporting mass incarceration is not the answer. In prison, teen inmates rarely receive enough education, workforce training or opportunities to return home and successfully support themselves and their families. Feelings of inadequacy turn into desperation, and within three years, most are back in jail, and unfortunately, repeating the cycle into adulthood. Every time a teen is incarcerated, NYS taxpayers are forced to pay a nation-leading $69,355 per inmate per year in incarceration costs.


Overestimating the potential of existing teen-serving solutions is not the answer. Rochester is full of positive, impactful, well-intentioned programs and organizations. Most simply lack the size, scope or strategy to solve this growing dilemma for good. Urban teens in poverty are diverse and deeply nuanced. Far too many have social, emotional and academic needs that no short-term or single program approach can solve alone.  


Rochester is losing this battle. It’s time to evolve our strategy. 


It’s time for a cost-effective solution that attacks the complex roots of urban teens in poverty’s social, emotional and academic failures. It’s time for a solution driven by academic and social-emotional outcomes that provides the support challenged school districts and law enforcement desperately need. It’s time for a solution that empowers people with first-hand knowledge of the harsh realities of Rochester’s poverty to lead the charge to transform the next generation. It’s time to finally teach underachieving teens the skills necessary to survive and thrive in the workforce of the 21st century.  


It's time for the Champion Academy.



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Roland Williams grew up in Rochester, NY’s 19th Ward in a neighborhood surrounded by poverty, gangs, drugs, violence, incarceration, teenage pregnancy and abuse. During his childhood, Roland experienced first-hand many of the traumatic experiences current urban teens in poverty face daily. 


A graduate of the Rochester City School District, Roland became one of the nation’s top student-athletes and attended Syracuse University on a full athletic scholarship. While in school, Roland took his academics as serious as his athletic performance, graduating with a BA in Speech Communications with a minor in Management from the Whitman School of Management. Roland also attended Newhouse School of Public Communications to pursue his Masters in Public Relations. 


After a stellar college football career, Roland was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 1998 and began to pay immediate dividends, winning the team’s Rookie of the Year award. The following year, Roland caught seven touchdown passes in an explosive offense known as “the greatest show on turf,” that became the first team in NFL history to go from last place to winning a Super Bowl in one season. Roland also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders where he won an AFC Championship in 2004. 


Throughout his NFL career, Roland has always maintained a strong commitment to the Rochester community. For more than a decade, he ran a popular free summer educational sports camp for thousands of high-risk teens in Rochester, distributed more than 1,000 free computers, made substantial financial contributions and spoke at numerous schools, churches and youth organizations committed to making Rochester a better place.

For his humanitarian efforts, philanthropy and community contributions, Roland has received many awards and accolades, including the Press-Radio Club Pro Athlete of the Year award, two-time winner of the Oakland Raiders Man of the Year Award and a multi-year semi-finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for philanthropy and citizenship. 


After suffering a career ending injury in 2005, Roland retired from professional football and dove into his passions as a sport analyst, motivational speaker and social entrepreneur committed to helping teens in poverty overcome barriers and maximize their potential. His groundbreaking Extreme Mentoring & Empowerment Model is accomplishing unprecedented academic and social outcomes with urban teens in poverty. 


Roland is a proud dad of three sons and enjoys lifting weights in his spare time. To learn more about Roland, visit RolandWilliams.com.