We first met Aliyah Gregory when she was 17 years old.
That year, her purple sneakers and purple socks got way more attention on the basketball court than anyone had imagined. She was a senior at Strawberry Crest High School in Tampa and had devoted her final season of high school basketball to raising money for The Spring of Tampa Bay – the state certified domestic violence center serving Hillsborough county.
"I would get coaches from the other teams come over to me when I was ‘in my zone’ warming up and ask me, 'Why do you guys have on purple?'” she explained.
Aliyah was the Chargers’ star player.
“I really wanted to come to every game to see what was going on," recalled her father, Ramone Gregory, a Tampa Police Officer.
The purple was not part of the school colors -- a vivid red.
Aliyah’s mom, Kimberly, would also arrive at the games brimming with anticipation.
Recalling how parents, students, competitors, even a coach on an opposing team had questions.
“She (the opposing coach) said, 'If your school colors are red, why is everyone wearing purple shoes?' That was an opportunity for Aliyah to share with the opponent,” said Kimberly.
What her daughter ‘shared’ was domestic violence awareness.
The warning signs, the statewide domestic violence hotline, the color purple as the national symbol for DV awareness – all of it poured out of Aliyah when asked about her socks and sneakers.
“I went to a pretty big high school, so I'm sure someone experienced it. Someone might not have been comfortable talking about it," said Aliyah.
Mindy Murphy is the President/CEO of The Spring of Tampa Bay.
To say she is thrilled and in awe of Aliyah is a major understatement.
"If I go in and try to talk to teens about domestic violence and teen dating, they're going to be like 'Yeah, yeah, yeah! That's something that happens to someone else,' but when someone they know and respect - an athletic star - talks about it and demonstrates that she cares about this cause, people are going to pay attention,” said Murphy.
“It's going to make a huge difference and it already has!”
Aliyah didn’t just wear purple, she asked the entire team to do it too!
She also convinced fans to donate a few dollars to The Spring every time she scored a point that last season of her high school basketball career.
"We were putting a lot of time and effort into this project. I thought it would be pretty good if we got $500, you know?” she said with a mischievous laugh.
“Then my mom said to me one day, 'We’ve raised almost $1,600' and I said 'WHAT!?" Aliyah couldn’t believe it.
By the end of the season, the teen had scored more than 600 points and fans had pledged close to $1,600.
“It’s a really powerful gift!” said Murphy.
“She is my super hero! If we could put her in a cape, we would. She is our hero," said Murphy.
"You, Aliyah, are my hero because you recognize at such a young age that one person has the power to do good and make a difference."
Aliyah is now a star player on the University of Central Florida’s women’s basketball team.
She may be a UCF Knight now, but to advocates at the state certified DV center in Hillsborough, she remains their “Super Star” – a young woman helping them stretch every dollar.
The Spring of Tampa Bay serves almost 2,700 people each year with direct services. The emergency shelter is only a slice of the entire pie of services.
"We can answer 177 hotline calls and safety plan with people," explains Murphy.
“That same amount of money, just over $1,500 can actually provide 75 individuals with one on one supportive counseling in our outreach center. It can feed a family of four for several weeks and provide services in our shelter."
It’s no secret Aliyah loves basketball, but why she chose domestic violence as her “cause” is less obvious.