It’s graduation season, and as we all now know, commencement speakers have a new reach in a modern age. So, when Nigel Hayes, a graduating senior at the University of Wisconsin assigned himself the task of writing a commencement address that nobody actually asked for, it turns out that it might just be the one we all need:
You’ll have to forgive me — I don’t know all the rules when it comes to writing a commencement address. I’ve been told that it’s standard procedure to start out with a famous quote. Or a cliché about what college really means. Or maybe an allegory that involves an animal. Small problem: This isn’t an official commencement speech. (Lucky for all involved, to be honest.) And anyway, I’ve never really liked standard procedures.
It’s an auspicious beginning on many levels.
Nigel Hayes is one of a handful of players on the University of Wisconsin’s much-loved basketball team who have been clear-throated on the subject of race, equity, power and the technology that drives conversations.
We wrote about Hayes last fall, after he and his teammates Jordan Hill and Bronson Koenig, who is Native American, sat down with The New York Times to talk about how they’ve used their platforms as basketball stars to talk about race.
Hayes used all the conceits of the commencement form to tell the world a little about himself and offer some sage advice.
“Going to school here has truly been a life-changing experience. I could go on forever about how proud I am to have been a part of two Final Four teams, a Big Ten title and a 115–35 record,” he began.
He talked about his awakening as an intellect and spiritual thinker, the benefits of a philosophically diverse student body, and how his studies in African American history helped him reframe his understanding of his own history. But as his fame on the basketball court grew, he began to chafe against the limits the world tried to put on his voice:
Whenever I — Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin student and basketball player, class of 2017 — tweeted about something that had to do with sports, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
But whenever I — Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin student and basketball player, class of 2017 — tweeted about something “political,” “serious,” “racial” or what have you … I noticed a pattern.
While few thanked him, he was mostly attacked by trolls, called names, and told repeatedly to Just shut up and play basketball!
“The message was clear: The views of athletes are of no value — we’re dumb and we should accept our roles as robots that make baskets and give brief press conferences,” he said.
If you have time, and since you don’t have a speech from Betsy DeVos to inspire you, I strongly recommend you read the speech and imagine Hayes at the podium doing the work. He does three things particularly well.
First, he speaks to the profoundly important role a university plays in providing mechanisms to help students explore diverse ideas, while also responding to their feedback when diverse views become toxic. Second, he offers solid advice for anyone who has ever been told to stay in their lane. If all goes well, he's going to be very famous very soon, and we can expect he'll continue to take his own advice.
And finally, he addresses the biggest inequity facing sports programs at the college level: That student athletes are doing big league work for no pay. As a finance major, he notes that not only is he robbed of the student's natural right to protest, otherwise free markets don't apply to the value he and his peer provide.
“Isn’t it interesting that collegiate athletics is one of the only American industries that doesn’t feel the need to abide by those same rules?” Perhaps some procedures shouldn't stay standard.
*Apologies for the late dispatch! Travel and technology woes on my end. And many thanks to raceAhead reader (and Madison alum) Tony Paese for sharing Nigel's speech. On Wisconsin.
Diversity is lagging at elite secondary schools in Boston
A study conducted by a group of civil rights organizations shows that the elite “exam” schools in the Boston area are not admitting enough students of color to reflect the diversity of the public school districts from which they draw students. The study, called, “A Broken Mirror: Exam School Admissions Fail to Reflect Boston’s Diversity,” shows that no exam schools enroll Latinx students proportional to their enrollment in the public schools. Boston Latin School, which was the subject of troubling discrimination accusations last year, lags behind the rest of the cohort in admissions. Their student body is 11% black, 16% Latino, 26% Asian and 43% white.
Duke University professor in trouble for calling diversity training “a waste of time”
Paul Griffiths is a professor of Catholic theology with strong opinions on many things. Unfortunately, after being invited to a training for “racial equity” at Duke Divinity School (DDS), his advice to colleagues on the faculty listserv was direct. Do not “lay waste your time” with the training, he said. In the best case, it would be filled with “bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs.” And then this: “Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.” He is now the subject of two disciplinary hearings and is scheduled to resign at the end of the 2017-2018 year. Click through for a full debrief on his remarks, the resulting outraged email chain, and subsequent inter-faculty fight. Then look at the allies in your diversity groups and be grateful.
National Mamas Bailout Day: A Mother’s Day gift for women in prison
Black Lives Matters and other activists have raised more than $250,000 with an aim to bail out black women in as many as a dozen jails across the country this Mother’s Day. The women have been languishing in jail not because they’ve been convicted of a crime, but because they can’t afford to pay their bail or other fees associated with their pre-hearing detention. Most are being held for low level crimes or things like unpaid fines; being detained puts jobs, homes, their mental health and vulnerable families at risk. The idea was first suggested by Mary Hooks, co-director of the Atlanta-based LGBTQ organizing project SONG. She describes it as “using our collective resources to buy each others’ freedom.” Here’s a great video explainer.
Innovation needs diversity to thrive
Ali Merifield the head of client services at Mirum, a digital creative agency, has published an essay that encourages leaders in search of innovative ideas to steel themselves for discomfort and awkwardness ahead. Diverse teams, “might slow down process and expose some shortcomings and weaknesses elsewhere in the system,” she says. “Problem solving and product development won't be as comfortable, or as much fun, as working in a homogenous group straight out of the same social, cultural and educational background,” she ways. But it’s that comfort and familiarity that causes teams to fail. By falling back on an initially easy rapport, assumptions go unchallenged and new perspectives fail to surface.
Mo’s Bows, a handmade necktie outfit, signs a seven-figure deal to distribute NBA branded ties
Moziah “Mo” Bridges, founder of the Memphis-based necktie manufacturer “Mo’s Bows” has just signed a seven-figure licensing deal with the NBA, allowing Mo’s to manufacture products with the logos of NBA clubs for distribution in select retail outlets and their online store. Straightforward enough, except for this one salient fact: Moziah is just fifteen years old. Bridges appeared on Shark Tank with his mother, Tramica, where the then 12-year old attracted the attention of fashion expert Daymond John. “My goal has always been to make Mo’s Bows a household name for kid entrepreneurship and men's accessories,” said Mo, taking a bow. “Partnerships like this one will help me reach my goals of having a full clothing line by the time I graduate from college.”
The Woke Leader
The enormous implications of the decision of the Census Bureau not to collect LGBTQ data in 2020
Praveen Fernandes is a twenty year veteran in the public policy sphere, so he’s learned from experience how critical data is to crafting smart, humane policies. He begins this essential opinion piece with a powerful reminder: “If something is not counted, it is neither seen nor understood.” That’s why, he says, “the Trump Administration’s decision not collect data on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans threatens these communities in ways that are both symbolic and practical.” He cites, among other things, the social isolation, health disparities and economic fragility that the LGBTQ populations experience. Disappearing them from view eliminates their consideration for essential services that they have every right to expect. But the symbolic also stings. “The census is a snapshot of the American family,” he says.
What would Mary McLeod Bethune do?
Like many of you, I read the dispatches from Betsy DeVos’s unfortunate appearance at Bethune-Cookman University’s commencement ceremony and wondered - what would Mary McLeod Bethune have done? After spending a little time getting reacquainted with her history, I’ve settled on an opinion. Though Dr. Bethune had forged unusually strong relationships with the white elite, the fifteenth child of former slaves spent her extraordinary life focused on what young black people needed to thrive in terms of civil rights, education, health care and access to the full range of experiences that this country could offer. And she got stuff done: She founded the university with an initial investment of $1.50. I think she would have seen the commencement address as a sacred chance to provide inspiration for students entering an increasingly complex world. In that regard, I think she would have considered DeVos at the podium to be a missed opportunity. But click here for her bio, and tell me what you think. Then hear her voice, in this 1949 radio program, in which she was interviewed by her dear friend, Eleanor Roosevelt. Really.
The Confederacy falls again
As of 5:30 a.m., a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the fallen Confederate government, was removed from a prominent spot on Canal Street in New Orleans. A small group of vocal protesters were on hand; they had been keeping vigil since April 24, when the city relocated the first of three Confederate monuments. The name “Jefferson Davis” had been trending on Twitter through the night, click here for the lively conversation as to his legacy. Ironically, the removal of the statue occurred began just minutes after the anniversary of his capture on May 10, 1865.
Boston itself was a flea market of racism. It had all varieties, old and new, and in their most virulent form. The city had corrupt, city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send-’em-back-to-Africa racists, and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists. . . . Other than that, I liked the city.’