Athletes inspire and influence us far beyond the courts, fields, or arenas in which they play. And for Black athletes especially, their impact has a lasting and at times unprecedented, effect on the world around us. This Black History Month, Shokz chatted with three athletes about what their Blackness means to them, how their culture brings them pride, and ways that we can continue to move forward. Read their responses below.
SHOKZ: What do you love about being Black and/or African American?
TALIYAH BROOKS: I love the pride I feel being Black. The culture. I love the sense of belonging I have when I am around other Black people. Black people have such a rich history, it’s hard not to be proud about being Black. To see where our people came from, what has been accomplished, achieved, and the impact Black people have on society. It’s amazing.
SAM EFFAH: We have a sense of community no matter where we are. Whether I see a Black person in the U.S., France, Barbados, Ghana, or Canada, there’s a connection that we all share. Sometimes it's a quick head nod, a moment of acknowledgment from a complete stranger. Other times, it's understanding a specific struggle, empathy, or an inside joke that alludes to a uniquely Black experience. Ultimately, we’re all connected. I love the diversity between every culture, the food, and the history we bring. Black people and African Canadians are a vast mix, also; there are 54 countries on the continent of Africa, each with its own identity.
MILLIE SAM-OTUH: Everything. I remember, growing up during my teenage years, wishing I looked different because I didn’t have the representation I needed to see that Black was truly beautiful. I have grown to love myself, love my natural hair (my crown), and love the skin I’m in. I also love the sense of community that comes with being Black and I hope that I can be a role model to other Black girls and boys out there.
SHOKZ: In what ways do you think the sports world and society as a whole could better support and uplift Black athletes?
TB: I think the sports world can stop using stereotypes to assume why Black athletes are great at what they do. And instead point to the hard work, the intelligence, the diligence that is put into their craft. Not all Black athletes are “naturally fast,” “naturally an athlete,” or come from parents with athletic backgrounds. We put in hard work, we sacrifice, we study, and are very meticulous to be great, and I think that should be recognized.
I also think the sports world could support athletes when they are speaking out about things they are passionate about outside of sports. Because of the diversity of fans of sport, sports can be such a great arena to talk about different topics, societal issues, or raise awareness about different things. When athletes speak out on their experiences, or experiences of family members, know that is something we truly care about. We are human. We have some of the same experiences as everyone else. Heartbreak, fear, disappointment, sadness, everything! Just remember we are human and support us the same when we are not just passionate about our sport.
SE: Firstly, being supportive year-round. Black History Month only gives a snapshot of talent, and in February. I hope there's a day when there isn’t a need for Black History Month to highlight the accomplishments of Black people, but rather we celebrate every month.
Secondly, there needs to be true understanding of why there is a need for things like Black History Month. Companies and organizations need to take the time to understand the history, so we can better serve the sporting community and society as a whole. Black history doesn’t start with slavery, and it doesn’t finish with George Floyd. We have famous kingdoms, accomplished business people and Black founders who are doing big things today! As athletes, we are just one of the many mediums that can bring awareness to Black excellence.
MSO: The sports industry could do better by providing more representation in their respective fields as well as taking a collective approach to address and bring awareness to discriminatory issues.
SHOKZ: How do you use your platform and/or your profession to showcase your culture and the issues that matter to you?
TB: I try to use my platform to share educational messages, facts, and to show people that I am genuinely interested and concerned about issues that I post. Some of the things I post have been my own personal experiences, and I just want people to be aware and cognizant of that. That in order to see and create change, it is going to take more than just the Black community caring about it.
SE: I do my best to represent my culture to the fullest. I like to show what I’m doing, the initiatives I’m leading, and amplify the voiceless. I love celebrating Black athletes, performers, educators, and business people year-round. We live in a society where we need fewer devil’s advocates, and more advocates, period. Being Black is more than my skin, it's a part of my culture, my appearance to the world, and it’s one of many things that makes me stand out.
Stereotypes run rampant in the media, and it's important for youth, adults, allies and anyone watching to say, “Hey, because you look like me, talk like me, I believe I can be successful,” or “If Sam is putting out a post about giving back, why can’t I?” I want to give confidence to those who are afraid of putting out positivity, and although I may not change the narrative in my lifetime, I want to show others what hard work and consistency can do in your life. Your social media platform is a 21st century resume, a profile, and it can represent what you mean to your team, school, job or the world.
About The Athletes
Taliyah Brooks is an American Professional Heptathlete. Get to know Brooks better when you follow her on Instagram here.
Sam Effah is a Canadian Champion Sprinter. Get to know Sam better when you follow him on Instagram here.
Mildred “Millie” Sam-Otuh is an American Middle Distance Runner. Get to know Millie better when you follow her on Instagram here.