Demitra Wilson had no intention of buying her local baseball academy.
She had enough going on as the senior vice president of brand and teammate communication strategy at Truist. She and her husband, Troy, also own a paint and auto body shop. And they have three children.
Her oldest son, TJ, is the reason Wilson loves baseball. He has been playing since he was 3, most recently at Gwinnett Baseball Academy in Suwanee, Georgia. But suddenly, the academy was closing. Wilson’s first thought was where her son could play instead. But then she considered the bigger picture. “The idea of what the facility means to the community was weighing heavily on my heart,” she says. Troy had the same thoughts.
They found themselves saying to each other: “Why don’t we just buy it?”
Ensuring consistency in her life
Wilson’s mother was in the Air Force, so they moved often. “My mom always tried to keep me in different team activities,” says Wilson, “like dance, cheer, and sports. They were a way to help me assimilate and have something consistent in my life.”
They also enhanced her life skills. “I don’t believe I fully understood the value of the experience until I got older,” she says. “But it helped me to become resourceful, someone who takes initiative, thrives in ambiguity. It gave me the courage to create awareness that change needed to happen, because I was in these different environments and saw things from varying perspectives.”
This is what she brought to Truist in 2019. As a new teammate, she raised her hand to say, “Where can I help?” It was a reminder of her days as the new kid, joining a team. “You’re not going to get any play time as the new person unless you say, ‘Here’s what I can do,’” she says.
"At Truist, it's around the teammate portion of my role. When we're making changes to the company, I think about how teammates fit in.
What she does is be a voice for the voiceless. It’s driven her personal and professional purpose for most of her life. “That, to me, means being courageous enough to challenge the way we think about things,” she says. “At Truist, it’s around the teammate portion of my role. When we’re making changes to the company, I think about how teammates fit in.”
She challenged how Truist thought about its approach to care. Truist aims to be a financial institution that goes beyond what’s expected. “I said, ‘This is going to work really well with clients, but have we thought about how we share this with teammates? They’re the ones who deliver on Truist’s purpose. We have to engage them so they can deliver this care.’”
That emphasis on teammates is how Wilson uses her voice professionally. In her personal life, it’s through community involvement.
Her community involvement includes Gwinnett Baseball Academy, or GBA, as it’s affectionately called. GBA trains kids in the physical and mental aspects of baseball and organizes competitive travel baseball teams for ages 8 and up. It focuses on not only competition, but also character and community.
When she learned GBA was closing, Wilson first cobbled together a team for her son. But it wasn’t the same. So, in October 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, she and her husband purchased the facility.
The reason went beyond baseball. “Yes, this is a place in the community where kids have access to an indoor training facility, professional instruction, and travel baseball teams,” she says. “But it was about not losing a staple in the community; it was a way to get more people into the local park and ultimately feed into the nearby high school baseball program. It was about tapping into the sport to help kids learn the skills they need to be upstanding citizens, to contribute to the community.
“For us, community is at the core of everything we do. We help these players build character, a commitment to something larger than themselves—their community. And we help them hone their baseball skills.”
That emphasis on character-building was what appealed to Dr. Luttrell Toussaint, whose son (also named TJ) plays at the academy. A trauma surgeon at Northside Hospital Gwinnett, Toussaint says at work, he can “always tell the people who played sports growing up. They learn how to work in a team environment and sacrifice their personal goals for the betterment of the team.”
That’s why Toussaint and his wife got their kids engaged in sports. “We wanted them to be well-rounded people,” he says. When he learned GBA focused on development and growth, he eagerly signed up his son.
"Baseball is a funny sport,” he says. “There’s so much of the game that involves failure, and kids learn you have to be OK with the idea of failing. You can find success in failure at times. We try to reiterate the important thing is to focus on our process rather than your outcome, to maintain perspective. Because even when you fail, you’re gaining valuable information that might lead to your success later on."
Those life lessons weren’t the only thing that appealed to Toussaint. “We’re raising two young Black men in a world where they don’t often get the opportunity to see people at the top of an organization like this that they can draw inspiration from.
“To see minority leadership from Troy and Demitra, to see faces that look so much like my own, my kids can draw a different level of inspiration from that,” he says.
Using adversity to help others
The academy is thriving, and Wilson plans to make it even more successful. “Our dream is to create a solid feeder program within the Collins Hill cluster,” she says. “We want to use baseball as a vehicle to create a sense of community but also to maintain the competitiveness of this [area].”
The facility will continue to shape the character of young minds, just as organized team activities and sports shaped hers.
"When I think back over my life, I think about taking those failures and frustrations thrown at you and figuring out not only how you can overcome them, but how you can use your experience to help someone else,” she says. “And I feel like that’s my reason for being here.”
For more stories of Truist teammates who are making an impact on their community, read how Scott Blaney helped save the day for a day care in West Virginia or how Shannon Heath Longino helped transform a public housing community in East Lake Atlanta.