By Kathy DeBoer, AVCA Executive Director
I participated in my first protest march about race as a 12-year-old. My mother took my older sister and me to downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan to march with others after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April of 1968. I do not share this to claim racial bona fides, as I am quite sure I did not want to go. I was a hardcore tomboy, i.e. vulnerability was out, and I wanted no part of mingling with a group of crying adults.
The killing of Breonna Taylor in her home, Ahmaud Arbery while jogging, and George Floyd by asphyxiation have laid bare a truth that black people live every day and white people choose to ignore: racial injustice is still a daily fact of life in our country, even 50 years later.
This national trauma has opened a space in which many of our black coaches and athletes have shared their stories about insults, inequities, and prejudice in their experience of our sport. The brutality of the killings, the protests, and the pandemic combined to create a situation where we cannot look we cannot look away, when that has been our default mode.
Let’s face it, most black volleyball players are from middle and upper-class homes, as financial resources are critical to access the training and exposure in our sport; my local black friends and AVCA work teammates are all college graduates, many with advanced degrees; Sharon Clark, our black president and Nickie Sanlin, the diversity representative on our board, have shared how their lives are more privileged than those of their parents.
Our socio-economic similarities made it convenient to assume our black colleagues and players had more in common with white people than black people. Their willingness to share their fear and pain with us have laid bare the ignorance of that assumption.
What will we do with this awareness?
We can vote, we can advocate for police reform, we can #BlackLivesMatter, we can give to racial justice causes, and we should do these things, but how will we change the way a black coach and black athletes experience volleyball? Can the honest conversations continue once our grief and rage are spent, once we hit the recruiting trail, once our players return to campus and our focus turns to winning volleyball matches?
I do not have ready-made answers and will need you, both black and white colleagues, to turn awareness into action. One thing is certain: this is a white problem and we must