- What has track meant to you and taught you?
While challenging myself physically and participating in athletic competitions has been rewarding, my greatest takeaway from track and field and the student-athlete lifestyle are the life lessons I learned along the way. Being a track and field athlete at a competitive high school and at the Division 1 level has forced me to develop serious discipline and time management skills, which I often use in my everyday life. During my undergraduate career at the University of Pittsburgh, I served on the Student Government Board, the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns, the Athletic Department’s Diversity & Inclusion Subcommittee and several other standing committees, in addition to being a full-time student-athlete. I also led efforts to update our University Student Code of Conduct and contributed to the new language that will appear in the revised version this year. My ability to balance my athletic responsibilities in addition to my responsibilities off the track required that I maintain a rigid daily schedule and remain hyper-organized. Doing so allowed me to get a lot done in a single day, and over four years. I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish all that I did during my time at Pitt had it not been for the self-discipline, confidence, and determination that I developed through track and field. Similarly, track has taught me how to fail forward. I’ve fouled countless jumps on the long and triple jump runway and lost a ton, but I always walked away from meets feeling like I learned something or improved a bit. For me, being a track and field athlete has been a true learning experience, and I believe that the lessons I’ve learned and the skills I’ve developed over the last 8 years will stick with me forever.
2. What is one moment that has defined you as an athlete or a person?
I try not to let single moments or experiences define me because I feel like doing so over-emphasizes one aspect of who I am, and disregards everything else that I’ve accomplished as a person. However, If I had to choose one moment, I’d probably say graduating from Pitt has been my greatest accomplishment to date. Although our commencement ceremony was virtual and names weren’t called in typical commencement fashion, my name was one of the few mentioned because I won the University’s Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) “Senior of the Year Award.” Every year, one Pitt senior is chosen as the ODK Senior of the Year for their meritorious leadership and involvement on campus and in the Pittsburgh community. The winner’s name is engraved beside previous years’ recipients in a walkway between the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Memorial Chapel. This year, because of COVID-19 the winner was announced during the virtual commencement ceremony, so everyone watching witnessed my name being called. I’m only the 6th Black student, and 3rd Black woman to win the award in its 90+ year history. Graduation day was a serious accomplishment to me not only because I was named “Senior of the Year,” but because as a Black woman, I know how fortunate I am to have a college education. Neither of my paternal grandparents were fortunate enough to go to college so April 26th was a very important day for me and my family. I wouldn’t say that my college degree defines me, but I think one day I’ll be able to look back at my undergrad career and see it as the beginning of a lifetime of service.
3. Based on your experiences as an athlete, what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
Be fearless in your pursuit of what’s right. No demand or ask is too big when your goal is justice. Anyone that truly values the lives of Black athletes will understand this. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You’re probably not the only one with you. If you really want to change something for the better, be relentless in your desire to get the job done. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and sometimes it requires that you get in the way.
4. What would you want people to know about your journey as a Black female athlete?
My experience as a student-athlete was very much influenced by the intersection of my identities as a Black person and a woman. As I reflect on my time at Pitt, I think my decision to remain vocal about the things I witnessed and didn’t agree with, probably earned me the label of the angry Black girl. Whether white people in the athletics community admit/understand it or not, Black athletes that constantly speak up are always looked at differently than Black athletes that don’t. Black athletes that aren’t as vocal are “tokenized” by their white teammates, who consider them to be the “good” Black athletes, rather than troublemakers. Look at the NFL for example- players like Colin Kaepernick, Kenny Stills, and Eric Reid were criticized by players and fans alike for protesting systemic injustice in America, while Victor Cruz, and other Black players that criticized their protests, were revered by White fans.
I knew that most people I would encounter would never understand the Black experience and unfortunately it takes years for some people to recognize what’s been sitting in front of their eyes for so long. Ironically, the work that I’ve done recently has gained a lot of attention & praise from white members of the Pitt Athletics community that initially didn’t understand why I acted/ carried myself in the way that I did. In sum, being a Black female student-athlete was not easy,
5. What inspired you to write the letter to the Pitt athletic department last month? How do you think athletes can best promote change in the sports world and beyond?
I initially wrote a letter to the NCAA with a dear friend of mine, Aubri McKoy, who is an alumna of The College of Wooster. We were frustrated by the delayed/poor response from the national organization regarding the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Aubri and I felt the need to speak up because the NCAA makes millions of dollars off the labor of Black athletes, and should feel responsible for addressing systemic racism and injustice since it impacts us (Black athletes) everyday. After we posted the letter on social media, Ian Troost reached out to me about writing to the Pitt Athletic Department about their response to the recent police brutality cases, as well as how they could create a more inclusive and equitable environment for Black Pitt athletes.
As for how current athletes can take a stand, the late Congressman John Lewis once said “Find a way to get in the way.” College athletes, particularly those that play revenue sports, have a large platform. If you work together, organize and agitate, I truly believe that student-athletes have the power to change the historically and systemically racist culture within college athletic departments across the nation. Use your voices, bodies, and social media presence to make noise and demonstrate. Black athletes deserve so much more than they’re being given. It’s time to change the exploitative nature of collegiate athletics.
6. What is your hope for the future of racial equality in sports or the world in general?
My hope is that Black athletes can one day enjoy their sport and speak about their lived experiences without white people telling them to “shut up and dribble.” I hope that white sports fans learn to respect and value Black athletes like Maya Moore, Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and Natasha Cloud in the same way they do Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Maria Sharapova. My hope is that one day, everyone views Serena Williams and Kareem Abdul-Jabar not just as elite athletes, but unbelievably brilliant individuals.
My hope for Black college athletes is that they’re encouraged to pursue their academic interests without white academic advisors telling them that they’re not capable of doing so. I hope Black athletes get paid for the labor they do on behalf of their respective schools, and that they experience the same freedom their white teammates do in every aspect of life.
Black athletes have historically excelled despite explicit attempts to undermine our success and talents. Had white people learned to embrace and accept our talents years ago (on and off the field), I believe that our country would look very different right now. Ironically, America’s history of excluding Black people from institutions and organizations has backfired, and we are just now seeing successes and historic moments that should’ve occurred years ago. My hope is that this country will one day learn it’s lesson.
Generally speaking, I dream of true liberation.