While she was putting her words together and preparing to tip, Jocelyn Willoughby took on a slightly different role from that of the New York Liberty Guard / Forward.
“The really powerful thing about literature is that you read about characters, but in some ways you read about yourself or someone you know,” Willoughby told nearly 60 attendees on a Zoom call at 1am in Israel.
Willoughby, who currently plays for Hapuel Petah Tikua, spent the next hour listening, guiding ideas, and calmly connecting with one another to officially launch her book club, Read What You Sow. The effort is the latest social justice initiative the Liberty endorsed and is one of a handful of clubs run by young black sportswomen who turn to literature for conversations about race, inequality, and what they mean for the future open.
A week after the launch of Read What You Sow, Kaiya McCullough, a UCLA professional soccer player, led the seventh meeting of her BLCK Book Club. The club, which was abbreviated to Book Lovers for Change and Kindness, got its own start in the early hours of the morning from Germany in October.
For Willoughby, number 10 in the WNBA draft, she continues the efforts of WNBA players into the 2020 bubble season. For McCullough, a 2020 NWSL draft pick, this is a continuation of the anti-racism work she has done since her first knee injury during the national anthem in 2017.
The story goes on
These two black women, who will both turn 23 in the coming months, are no longer actively converting against racism, but instead are focusing as a larger group on education and analysis at a time when most are isolated during a pandemic.
“I think we all realize at this point that certain reforms and changes are needed,” Willoughby told Yahoo Sports. “I think the question is what that looks like and how it is achieved. And before we can really answer, we really need to understand where we are and how we got here. “
According to America’s 2020 Race Bill, Jocelyn Willoughby and Kaiya McCullough found ways to connect with fans through anti-racist literature. (Graphic by Amber Matsumoto / Yahoo Sports)
Books offer a way to understand
The book club format has caught on behind actresses like Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson in recent years, not to mention Oprahs and even one of Andrew Luck, a retired NFL quarterback. The benefits are lengthy and mostly focus on health.
It is also shown that reading improves “the theory of mind”, the ability to understand others, has different beliefs and desires, and that it is okay. Books open up a new world of knowledge to the reader and generate empathy by connecting them emotionally with a character, especially in fictional works.
So it makes sense that two young graduates who just graduated from college turned to the written word during the nation’s sudden reckoning with the race last summer. Willoughby began thinking of a book club after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor died when she asked questions in order to understand and do something.
“I felt like it was important to educate myself,” Willoughby told Yahoo Sports. “I think this is where the idea of a book club began. Of course we can use books as a source of information to inform ourselves. But also (to) invite other people to read with me and have more in-depth conversations about our current understanding, certain worldviews and to question the perspectives we have. And we can imagine a better future. “
The Virginia graduate chose novels that focused on women with color because “Read What You Sow” deals with injustices that affect them disproportionately. It is these narratives that are usually not heard.
“Much of what affects us as marginalized beings affects everyone, and when we look at problems through the lens of women of color and address them, everyone benefits,” she said.
At the same time as Willoughby was interviewing himself, McCullough was asking questions from other people about resources to better educate yourself. Their decisions, which members voted on, focused on non-fiction.
“I did the same thing as looking for resources and looking for books to read,” McCullough told Yahoo Sports. “I thought maybe I can just make a space for myself and others to talk about the things we do.” learn about. Because I think it’s one thing to read things from one side and another to analyze them and really sit with them. And think about it in the context of the world we live in now. “
They have separately set themselves the goal of actively participating in the environments in which they are active as professional athletes and role models.
Willoughby left with more questions than answers
Guard Jocelyn Willoughby started a book club with support from the New York Liberty Organization. (AP Photo / Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Willoughby, who will turn 23 on March 25, kept the idea of a book club to herself during her rookie season at Wubble, where she wore Taylor’s name on her shirt. As she pondered that time and how to keep the job going, she dumped her idea from Alesia Howard, Liberty’s director of communications and public relations.
They brought in Cafe Con Libros, an intersectional feminist bookstore in Brooklyn that put together a list of books. Willoughby chose Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” as an accessible opener that marked a turning point for everyone. The discussion flowed through aspects of colorism, identity, domestic violence, gender and relationships.
“The people were really thoughtful, vulnerable, and insightful,” she said, “not just about how they related the book to topics in their own lives, but also [to] Questions that are not necessarily answered, but at least allow you to think about them more critically. I think this is really important. “
Layshia Clarendon, an outspoken Liberty teammate, said after the initial meeting that she “opened my eyes to new perspectives,” and Clara Wu Tsai, Governor of Liberty and founder of the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation, is a participant.
“Our society is at such a critical point in understanding and addressing the social injustice in this country today,” Wu Tsai said in a statement to Yahoo Sports. “Jocelyn uses her platform, voice and network to challenge the status quo and ask us to come together, educate and become real activists for social justice. I am inspired by her and incredibly proud to be a member to be Read what you sow. “
Willoughby closed the first month of her club with a conversation with Bennett on an Instagram Live and is now on Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.
“I think one thing that I got away from the book and the discussion is the importance of asking questions but being okay, not necessarily having answers,” said Willoughby, who wrote the book three to four times at a time read. “I think the fact that we are primarily more comfortable asking questions is really important, especially when it comes to being more critical of the norms we are adopting.”
McCullough finds common space to deal with topics
Kaiya McCullough, a 2020 NWSL pick from UCLA, views their book club as a continuation of anti-racism work. (Howard Smith / ISI Photos / Getty Images)
McCullough, who will turn 23 in May, sees her book club as an opportunity to continue the activist work that has catapulted her into national consciousness. She designed a Google form, shared it with Twitter, and received nearly 150 signups.
“This work is really important to me, and I think I owe it to me too, for having a space outside of the Twitterverse context or outside of social media to talk about these things,” McCullough told Yahoo Sports. “Only have real one-on-one conversations with people. Really personal conversations, as much as Zoom can be personal. That was my passion project. “
At the first meeting, which was postponed to October because she had no WiFi in Germany, two different groups discussed Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”, while McCullough stayed up late to make this easier. They have focused on non-fiction in “The New Jim Crow,” “Between the World and Me,” and “Forty Million Dollar Slaves.” Everyone has left McCullough, and she hopes the other readers will have something new to think about. The big thing she learned is the extent to which the environment and region can affect the experience.
“That was one thing that surprised me more in my book club than seeing how we can view anti-racist work as that collective thing. But how does it have to be adjusted depending on where you’re from? ” She said. “Because there are different problems, different obstacles that you encounter depending on your location and your upbringing.”
McCullough, who asked the Washington Spirit to forego her, ended her contract in Germany this winter due to COVID-19 issues and returned to Los Angeles. The next steps in her football career are similar to those of her book club: unlimited. She’ll see what happens, but as far as the book club is concerned, he continues to achieve her goals.
“I think part of our duty in anti-racism work is to learn something new every day. Something you might not have known, a different perspective, a different point of view, ”she said.
Reading to change the world
To change norms, thoughtful new approaches are required. Sports fans saw it in the summer when players walked away after another black man was shot by police. When the WNBA battled a now-former team owner and helped flip the United States Senate.
Willoughby and McCullough are the next sustained wave in this dialogue. You read and discuss for yourself, but also for what happens after you hang up.
“I hope these conversations are not just being had in our Zoom meeting, but that people are sitting with these questions,” said Willoughby. “Or as you said, when I sit with the book and think, OK, can I talk to my colleague about it? Can I talk to my children about these things? “
In a new age where people are posting black boxes in blank solidarity images on Instagram, McCullough wants people to instead create awareness and realize that they have power.
“What I think will change life is our collective action to hold these institutions accountable for racism,” she said.
What both women understand is that books are windows into alluring worlds that a reader may never know in their own life. Immersing yourself in another character is one way to plant a consistent seed of change, and both Willoughby and McCullough have a platform to facilitate the initial opening.