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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Western athletes reflect on Black History Month

In the middle of Black History Month, three Western athletes took time out of their busy schedules to talk to The Western Front a little bit about their experiences as athletes of color.

Black History Month is an annual observance to remember important people of the African-American race and the events and history of African-Americans as well.

Lenny Kusina
Lenny Kusina- Soccer

Kusina, a senior who has started 34 games for the Vikings, grew up in Zimbabwe before bouncing around Illinois, Alaska and Minnesota finding his way in the soccer world. Growing up in such an African cultured country like Zimbabwe with his family made it tough at first to adjust to playing with teammates that didn’t share a similar cultural perspective.

“In Alaska, I was the only black kid on my youth team,” Kusina said. “I’ve usually been the only black kid on the team. In high school there were three of us [players of color], but it was mostly white.”

As Kusina moved around he began to become accustomed to his new life and learned about African-American history in America as he went. He never really got picked on by white people except for one significant instance, Kusina said.

“When I moved back to Minnesota, people tried to pick on me. But I would challenge them in their sports and I beat them. After I destroyed them in whatever sport they tried on the playground, then they couldn’t really mess with me,” Kusina said. “From that situation I learned that I’m not going to let people stand on top of me like that.”

Kusina’s eligibility is up as a soccer player at Western, but he still found himself a bit shook up by the hate speech that occurred at the end of fall quarter.

“That could be me, initially. If somebody of color is getting racial threats, who’s stopping somebody else from doing it to me?” Kusina said.

Kusina draws on his life experience when talking about judging people based on skin color.

“For me, I try to never think of everything in terms of color. My physical appearance is what you see, yes,” Kusina said. “Going to a boarding school, the one thing that was stated all the time was– treat others the way you would like to be treated. I try to treat myself well, and I’d like to do the same to everybody. I’m just me, I do what I need to get done.”

Kusina envisions the life he set out for when he came to Western and as he moved around the country.

“I’m me. I’ve got to do a little better because I’m me, not because I’m black. We’re all people at the end of the day,” Kusina said. “That’s really what’s most important– not forgetting who you are, but treating everybody the same. Preach love, not hate.”



Ricardo Maxwell
Ricardo Maxwell- Basketball

Maxwell began his basketball career in Cincinnati, Ohio, playing all four years of high school basketball on the varsity squad. As a freshman going to a predominantly black school and playing on a predominantly black team, Maxwell remembers a racially intense matchup against a team and school that had a largely white community and team.

“Me being a freshman, I’m like ‘this is, wow’ because I’m getting called all types of names,” Maxwell said. “And things like: ‘oh you’re only on the team because you’re black.”

Maxwell, a senior that has scored nearly 800 career points, carried out his business without letting darkness seep into his life.

“We’re all playing the same sport, if you can play you can play,” Maxwell said. “It really didn’t affect me because I kind of expected it. If that’s how you feel, that’s how you feel.”

As a new student on campus, Maxwell found himself constantly being profiled based on race. Many profiled him as a basketball player before they knew he was on the team. In his instance it was true that he was a member of the team, but Maxwell has some words of advice for anyone that might come to their own understanding of someone without getting to know them first.

“Don’t count the eggs before they hatch. Don’t look at someone and stereotype before you even ask them questions about themselves. Because you don’t know what that person does or why they’re here,” Maxwell said.

As for Black History Month and his takeaways of the month, Maxwell simply wants people to confront racial issues that have persisted for generations and continue on to this day.

As for Black History Month and his takeaways of the month, Maxwell simply wants people to confront racial issues that have persisted for generations and continue on to this day.

“I feel like Black History Month is important for society to sometimes realize that there’s still racism going on today,” Maxwell said.


Jeffrey Parker
Jeffrey Parker

Jeffrey Parker grew up in California and has found it tough at times for caucasian players at Western to relate to his experiences, he said. Parker found solace in his new environment through Maxwell, among others, as a way to embrace his culture and himself as a whole.

“When you’re in this type of environment where there’s not as many African-Americans around, you’re naturally going to go to something of your kind or something that’s similar to you. Me and Ricardo naturally bonded simply because we’re African-American, we share history,” Parker said.

As for his caucasian teammates, Parker, a senior who has scored over 1,200 career points, struggled to adjust as he was coming from a high school that was mostly black.

“I can’t count too many events or incidents where race came into play,” Parker said. “But being on this team I am now, it’s a little bit awkward at times because I’m one of two eligible African-American athletes on the team.”

The awkwardness led Parker to realize that sometimes people just don’t know how certain things they say and do can hold larger scale connotations. As time has gone on in his career as a Viking, he has emphasized communication with his caucasian teammates as a way to help everyone accept who they are as people and teammates.

“It’s hard at times for caucasian players to relate to African-American players because of the background and history that these players have,” Parker said. “It’s difficult at times to relate to them and really get a sense of where they’re coming from on certain things. Throughout my time here I have adjusted.”

Parker has adjusted by simply being himself, and he feels more comfortable at Western and with all of his teammates.

“Just be who you are, you never change who you are according to the environment you’re in. In a room you step in, you might be the blackest thing there. You never change who you are, just be yourself,” Parker said.





















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