Izayah Powell Wants to Give Student Athletes of Color a Voice

This summer Izayah Powell and a group of friends went to Europe. They strolled around London ogling the architecture, while the Londoners ogled them. “We were walking through the streets of London and we all had our outfits—you know, I love my fashion—and that just attracted a lot of attention,” Powell says. “People were looking at us and taking pictures of us and I’m like, ‘Oh, because we’re American.’ But it was a different type of a picture. These girls came up to me, they were like, ‘Can we take a picture with you guys?’”

The girls thought Powell and his friends had to be famous. “We’re all very fun, and we were just being ourselves,” Powell says, laughing. Powell, 20, is 6’2 and super built, yet still somehow completely approachable. Besides whatever cultivated-eccentric outfit he’s wearing, he usually wears glasses—on Twitter he calls himself “the Black Clark Kent”—a gold stud earring of the Playboy bunny, a gold Capricorn ring, and a gold necklace spelling out “jiggy. “Like ‘get jiggy with it,’” he says, suddenly sounding about 80 years old. “My grandfather lives in Jamaica, with my dad, and he says it all the time,” Powell continues, “I always liked it, and then I heard it in music and whatnot, and I thought, ‘This is me.’ I had to take it over.”

Today at his Bonobos shoot, he’s wearing a suit and glasses—with no lenses, he notes, so they they don’t reflect the camera’s flash. He keeps going to adjust them and sticking his fingers through the lense-less frames. “I’ve been blind this whole time,” he jokes, “it’s just been flashes and smiles.”

Powell recently started a group to support multicultural athletes in college, by connecting them with seniors and graduates who can offer advice for navigating situations where they don’t feel like they have a voice. The mentees can use the group to express frustrations. “That way, you can be with your team and not be that one person to the side, feeling like you can’t really fit in,” Powell says.

It’s hard to imagine Powell not fitting in anywhere. He has a ton of acquaintances, and he has enough close friends that he’s “capped” their numbers—you have to draw the line somewhere when you have Powell’s infinite charisma. After the U.K., Powell and his friends moved on to Spain. They went to a fancy restaurant and sat in the non-VIP section. Like in London, they were just having fun, being themselves, and making the waitstaff laugh. The group noticed a man watching them. He was eating a steak by himself and he looked important. They decided to go over and introduce themselves, soon realizing that he owned the place. “We told him we could turn that whole restaurant up, if he wanted.” The owner was tickled, and gave them the run of the place, VIP section and all. “I’m Jamaican! I love to dance! I was just doing different moves, hips and whatnot,” Powell recalls, “When you’re having fun, other people want to have fun with you.”

I wish someone had distilled popularity for me like that in middle school.

Lauren Larson is a writer and editor in New York City, aspiring to be a writer and editor in Bali.