This morning, Onaje X.O. Woodbine, a philosophy and religious studies teacher at Phillips Academy and the author of Black Gods of the Asphalt spoke about his experience of being a black basketball player at Yale and deciding to leave the team to concentrate on his studies. He read the letter his coach wrote to him after he left which accused him of ruining opportunities for other black athletes in the future. This type of generalizing one black man’s actions on all black men is racism at play and many white people are not even conscious of it. There were a number of other explicitly racist comments in the letter. It was demoralizing.
Onaje then spoke about his study of basketball in the Boston neighborhood where he grew up. He described the flow state and the safety that black men found when on the basketball court. He shared stories of how basketball tournaments were named after so many young men who were killed, and the impact of this trauma. He had two performers act out vignettes from his book.
He ended the talk with a few powerful quotes:
- The pedagogical imperative of school: we must provide the most truthful portrait of reality
Black students are not muscle and flesh. They are stories and they want their stories to be told
‘We got next’ to do the work of discovery and racial healing
‘We got next’ to take down the artificial boundaries that prevent racial healing
If you identify as white and are angry or frustrated with this post, I encourage you to do some reading. Check out this post. We are a country that has a deep history of oppression and brutality against black and brown people and we must own that history to begin to heal this divide.
Thanks NAIS for a great opening speaker who challenged the audience to feel the terror of black youth live with each day.
What did you take away from this talk?