by Garnett L. Overby III
In the early 1990’s, I was fortunate enough to be offered an athletic scholarship to attend a predominately white institution (PWI). This was the first time I had ever heard of a PWI, I was just excited to realize my dream of becoming a Division-I collegiate athlete. It was after my first college semester that I began to realize the impact that a PWI can have on an African-American student-athlete. I realized that over 90% of the African-American student population (at this particular institution) were student-athletes. I also realized that all of the professional African-American mentors, faculty, administrators, coaches, etc., I could count on one hand. There was one coach, one student services administrator, two faculty, and one athletic administrator. All, except for the coach, became very important supporters and mentors, especially the athletic administrator, Bernice.
Bernice was native to the state and town of the university. She was also a highly decorated former student-athlete of the university. Bernice was very well connected, popular, and active in the local community. She was the first African-American female athletic administrator to be elevated to Assistant Athletic Director. Her aspirations were to someday become a Senior Athletic Director and eventually the Vice President for Athletics at her alma mater.
By the time I was completing my second year at the institution, Bernice was making a major career change. She had accepted a senior position in the Alumni Relations department at the institution. After speaking to Bernice about this drastic move out of athletics, she informed me that her superiors explained that she had reached her ceiling in athletics and any hopes of excelling would have to be done at another institution. This left me with the thought that if this PWI would crush the dreams of a highly decorated alumna, what does that mean for me (at the time I was having aspirations of becoming an athletic administrator). My sympathy for Bernice on that day left me with the sense that my dreams were also being crushed.
Stories like Bernice’s has been documented on our podcast, “Invisible Women In Sport.” You can listen to 15 episodes of courageous women of color who are currently pursuing careers in athletics. They talk about their struggles, concerns, and successes. They are bravely challenging the status quo and are implementing strategies and systems to smooth the path for all women coming behind them. You can listen on iTunes (https://apple.co/2rsFYC8) or Google Play (https://bit.ly/2ryHweP). Please leave a comment on Twitter (@instituteSSJ) or directly on our website at https://bit.ly/2XxfA9e. Future episodes will be coming soon.
By the way, Bernice went on to have a very successful career. She completed her Ph.D., became the Assistant Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, Associate Vice President for Student Support Services, President/CEO of her own consulting and training organization, and the first African-American to become president of the local county school board of trustees. Ultimately, Bernice taught me that dreams don’t get crushed, they simply get refocused!
“Invisible Women In Sport – See Us Now”
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Garnett L. Overby III
Director, Marketing and Communications
Institute For Sport & Social Justice