What are some moments you have really felt your identity on your team?
I was one of three black girls on the team [in high school]. I guess I've lived a very privileged life being that I'm from North New Jersey, but I've only gone to private schools. I got this chance to get the best education possible. Right off the bat, being black is a huge difference. All the other girls on my team were white and lived in different parts. We just came from such different backgrounds, and I kinda straddled that line of whoa I could kind of be like you guys, but I'm not like you guys. I know how to act around you guys, at the same time I know how to act around my other friends, around black people. So I guess you could say code switching was a huge thing. When we were in hotels and were waiting to go out and play, talking to someone I'd be like yeah blah blah blah, and I just switch all the sudden and I'd be like oh yeah let's totally do this, like let's totally go for it. I remember that was a really big thing. They're like well why aren't you talking like that to us? And I was like, I don't have to do that with you, I feel [more] comfortable doing it with someone else than I do with you.
Being one of the bigger girls on the team was a huge thing. You know you're growing up, you're a teenager and body image is a huge thing, and it still is. I think that was the first time I actually realized that I was built differently than other girls. It was hard because coaches sort of like to nitpick you and pick up on those insecurities, but I just used it to my advantage. Especially when you play a sport like volleyball where you're literally in the tightest, tightest clothes known to man, and I could have been like oh I don't want to play, I don't want to do it because of the uniform. But I kind of switched it around. Getting to Smith by working out and using my size to my advantage in the weight room and on the court, it's totally boosted my confidence.
I leaned on my mom a lot. It wasn't the first time that the picture goes into color [and] you're like oh I'm black and you're white, but it was the first time that sports were such a big part of my life. No coach has ever really focused on that before, and I just talked to her about it. She was like well you just need to keep it in the back of your mind, but you know you're here for one specific reason. You need to focus on that. You hone in on that and you work. She's like you're going to have to work twice as hard as everybody else on that court to get half the playing time that they get.
That was true. You know there were times where I didn't play and I know I'm better than let’s say Jane Doe over there, but because of this coach I know I can't play. That just meant getting more reps, playing longer, being the first in the gym, being the last one to leave, being the first one in the weight room, being the last one to leave. That hasn't changed and I think it's made me the player that I am today. Throw me some adversity, I'll take it, that’s cool. Let's do it. In the moment it was hard, it was just like wow this difference, this difference that I have is just separating me from everybody else. Now it's just like cool, thank you for that, you know?
For me, a big thing is my anger… or my passion, and how it comes across as anger. I've had some people on the team, and off the team, come to me and say "oh well you look pissed off” or “you don't look like you're having fun” or “you look angry, what's going on?” That flows into the stereotype of the angry black woman, and it's not me. Just because I'm really in the moment, I'm focused, doesn't mean I'm angry or there's something that I'm pissed off about. It's totally been a huge thing when everybody comes across differently on the court and when someone is in the zone. Some person might be like really happy, someone might be like yes let's go, and then some people might just not say anything. I'm that person that doesn't say anything. I want to get the job done, so being accused of being angry while other people act the same way, it's like are you talking to them about this too or is this just me? That hurts a lot. So that's definitely one of those times where I [would] be like.. got it, like remember where you are. I process it. I talk to my mom. A really big thing for me is my faith, so I pray about it and I just try to calm myself down because you don't want to fall into those stereotypes that they're trying to push you into.