Minnesota Lynx First WNBA Championship-One of Many Firsts

On Oct 7, 11,543 fans watched the Minnesota Lynx win their first WNBA Championship by sweeping the Atlanta Dream. And over 15,000 lined the streets of Minneapolis to welcome them back home to the Target Center. http://www.wnba.com/lynx/

It was a celebration of many firsts starting with the first win for a Minnesotan professional team in 20 years. The first time in WNBA history  that two women coaches met in the final. Lynx Coach of the Year, Cheryl Reeve, faced off against Marynell Meadors who led the Atlanta Dream to back to back final appearances (Only once before has a woman head coach won the finals when in 2004, Anne Donovan coached the championship Seattle Storm).

Laurel Richie, the first African American woman to be president of  U.S. professional league, presented the championship trophy to a team that hadn’t won a play off game since its inception in 1999.

I am a long distance Lynx fan, not only because half of my family live in Minneapolis-St.Paul, but also because the first WNBA game I saw was in 2003 at the Target Center where my daughter caught a T-shirt, printed with Lynx logo, New Game in Town. I was thrilled to see Lisa Leslie, LA Sparks, smooth moves to the hoop. But what made the greatest lasting imprint was the image of my thirteen-year-old son, waiting in line for five-time Olympian, Theresa Edwards’ autograph. I never thought I’d see the day a boy would request a female basketball player’s signature.

This past summer, Nathalie and I saw the Lynx play LA again. This time, the Lynx dominated, in large part due, to their  depth. Whether it was Whalen or Wiggings dishing assists at point, Seimone Augustus (MVP) or Maya Moore (Rookie of the Year) flying at wing, or Taj McWilliams-Franklin or Rebekka Brunsen clearing the boards at center, no matter who was on the court, they jelled.

Fans don’t realize that it has taken decades for women to be accepted in the macho world of pro basketball. However, in Minneapolis, women’s pro basketball is not a new game in town. Three decades ago, in the first women’s professional basketball league (WBL), my franchise, Washington D.C. Metros, went bust mid season, but the Minnesota Fillies were one of only three teams to last the span of the WBL 1978-1981. Unfortunately, back then, the media found women’s basketball newsworthy only when linked to scandal. In 1981, the Fillies became the talk of town when a player was murdered, and when the team promised paychecks that never materialized, walked off the court ten minutes before tip off  before a full house in Chicago.

The contemporary player that impressed me most was Mama Taj, a steady, calm, solid presence. My daughter, beat up in the paint in college ball, wonders how could a post player survive the banging on the boards for over a decade?  Like Theresa Edwards role in the foundation of the league, Mama Taj, with 12 years experience in the league could be called the grand dame of the game.

Minnesotans, ever loyal, love their Twins, Vikings, and Timberwolves, but it was the ladies that put the Twin Cities back on the map.  The greatest appeal about the women’s game is not the slam dunking, showboating of the NBA, but the passing, teamwork and cohesiveness.  Families -mothers and sons, fathers and daughters -bond over basketball.

The WNBA promotes fitness, families, and education, the same values advocated in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area with their abundance of lakes, bike trails, walking paths, and family- orientated communities.

Thumbs up to the first African American pro league  president, a first WNBA championship for Minnesota, and a first all female coaching final. It’s all good!

What really blew my mind was that for the first time the women were feted at the Vikings football game in front of a crowd of 60,000, including my son and brother-in-law.  In a gesture so frequent in the women’s game, the Lynx wearing purple jerseys, cheered the Vikings to their first victory of the season!  The Lynx have arrived… New Game In Town… No More!

Senseless Racism, a songwriter’s opinion

 

The inspiration of children from around the world challenges each of us to work together to create a better world.

Etre né quelque part, a song by French  singer, poet and guitarist, Maxime Leforestier, loosely translated in English shows the nonsense of racism.

 

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GTCtvs4KwM&NR=1[/youtube]

On choisit pas ses parents,                                    We don’t choose our parents
on choisit pas sa famille                                         We don’t choose our family
On choisit pas non plus                                         We don’t choose
les trottoirs de Manille                                          the sidewalks of Manila,
De Paris ou d’Alger                                                or Paris, or Algiers either,
Pour apprendre à marcher                                   To learn to walk
Etre né quelque part                                              The place where one is born
Etre né quelque part                                             The place where one is born
Pour celui qui est né                                              For whoever is born
C’est toujours un hazard                                       is always random chance
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa

 

Y a des oiseaux de basse cour et                         There are domesticated birds and

des oiseaux de passage                                          migratory birds
Ils savent où sont leur nids,                                  they always find their nests

quand ils rentrent de voyage                                 whether they return from travel
Ou qu’ils restent chez eux                                      Or they stay home
Ils savent où sont leurs œufs                                 they know where their eggs lay

Etre né quelque part                                                The place where one is born
Etre né quelque part                                                The place where one is born
C’est partir quand on veut,                                     Means leaving when we choose
Revenir quand on part                                             Coming back after leaving

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                   Are people born equal
Egaux en droits
A l’endroit                                                                  Wherever they were born
Où ils naissent

Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                    Are people born equal
Egaux en droits
A l’endroit                                                                 Wherever they were born

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                   Are people born
Pareils ou pas                                                            The same or not

On choisit pas ses parents,                                    We don’t choose our parents
on choisit pas sa famille                                        We don’t choose our family
On choisit pas non plus                                        We don’t choose
les trottoirs de Manille                                         the sidewalks of Manila,
De Paris ou d’Alger                                               or Paris, or Algiers either,
Pour apprendre à marcher                                  To learn to walk

Je suis né quelque part                                        I was born somewhere
Je suis né quelque part                                        I was born somewhere
Laissez moi ce repère                                          Leave me that reference point
Ou je perds la mémoire                                      Or I will lose my identity
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwaha.sa

 

 

 

Education, Racism, Football, and Mama

If you want to capture boys’ attention, talk football (at least in Europe).  Paul Canoville, who helped break the color barrier in British soccer spoke at the International School of Geneva about racism in sport to tie in with United Nations Day of Tolerance Nov. 17, 2010 and March 21st International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

« Mama said, ‘get an education ! »   Canoville said in a high pitched voice with a Caribbean accident, wiggling his hips imitating his mama.

Chelsea's player Paul Canoville

Chelsea's player Paul Canoville

« Don’t worry Mama, football gonna take care of me. » said the first black man to play for Chelsea in 1981, who still remembers that pain of racial abuse when even his own fans called him animal names.

« My Mama, from a poor Caribbean family, came to England alone and dreamed of becoming a nurse, but never had the chance to become educated.  She worked hard all her life.  She didn’t care about football ; she wanted me to go to school.»

When Canoville’s career ended to a knee injury at age 25, no one took care of him, especially not football.  After a downward spiral of drug addiction, street life and jail time, he turned his life around.  His autobiography, Black and Blue received  the best British sport book award in 2009.

After Canoville’s visit to our campus, three of my freshman students, a a tall dark-haired Italian basketball player, a blond blue-eyed Austrian footballer, and a young Swiss tennis man wrote him this letter.

Dear Mr. Canoville

Thank you for coming to tell us a story that has the power to make people change their way of thinking  about racism. In school we always learn about the history of racism, what it is about, what it provokes, but we have never had a witness talk to us about his experiences. It is a privilege that students will cherish. Most kids are sports fans, and many would love to play professional football later in life.  The opportunity to hear a famous footballer sharing important views so freely is fantastic. It has even more of an impact when you are funny.  When you tell your life altering stories and describe the appalling behavior you confronted, you showcased your great sense of humor and positive way of seeing things. A person will always face challenging times, but if you fight for what you believe in, no matter how unfair things seem to be, you can do just about anything. You taught us this. We would love for you to come back and pass your experiences and knowledge on to other generations of students.

Canoville’s final words to our students were “Always have a back up plan.  Get an education. And listen to mama.  Mama knows best!”

Here’s to all the mamas around the world, making sacrifices everyday, giving children a better chance through the opportunity of education.

 

 

Women’s History Month – Quilts Connect From Pre Civil War to the 21st Century

“When you can effectively deny a man of his history, you can effectively deny him of his very humanity.” The statement from A Handbook for Teachers of African American Children by Baruti K. Kafele, an award-winning educator, whose first name means teacher, is so true.

What about women’s history? It astounds me that with all the great leaders in the world, when I ask my freshmen English class to write about heroes, most fourteen-year-old girls, choose celebrities like Lady Gaga to idolize.

“When I was your age,” I explained to my class, “women were second-class citizens. Female athletes and books about them were non-existent; very few female biographies were published.  My hero was Harriet Tubman a brave, athletic slave who escaped to freedom and then led others on Underground Railroad.”

“How did a white girl end up with a black slave for hero?”

Women were obliterated from literature, except in the role as damsel in distress. Like Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, rebelling against the role of Southern white belle, I fought the confines of traditional womanhood in the 70s.

Lenore' s quilt for granddaughter

Yet individual acts of courage can make an extraordinary difference. Rosa Parks sat down so the nation would stand up for Civil Rights. Jane Addams, the first female Nobel Peace Prize recipient, helped poor Chicagoans survive the Great Depression. Harriet Tubman risked her freedom and her life helping 300 other slaves escape north.

Other heroes followed a more traditional path like my mom, Lenore McKinzie, who combined family and career. She instructed and nurtured, inspired and sewed. My mom’s passion led her to attend Dr. Clarice Boswell’s lecture on Pre-Civil War Quilts. Dr. Boswell explained how the codes stitched in quilt patterns signaled safe routes on the Underground Railroad and recounted her family ancestry in her book, Lizzie’s Story – A Slave Family’s Journey to Freedom.

So where is this going? Dr. Boswell’s daughter, Cathy Boswell, a 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, entered Illinois State University the year after I graduated. In my first coaching gig, Cathy starred on the team I coached at summer camp.

Now my class was hooked; the lesson tied in with basketball and the Olympics.

My international students thought the Underground Railroad was a real train tunnel. They had never heard of Harriet Tubman. Most had no clue what a quilt was either. I handed out photocopies of the Pre Civil War quilt patterns and then passed around an example of the mini quilt cover my mom made me.  She sewed a red cardinal, Illinois’ state bird, also my Norwegian grandmother’s favorite, into the green and gold cloth as an everlasting a symbol of my own ancestry.

Dr Clarice Boswell

From Harriet Tubman to Jane Addams to Rosa Parks, “little” women made a big impact on history. From Betsy Ross to Clarice Boswell to Lenore McKinzie, American women connected generations in the great tapestry of humanity, one stitch at time.

 

Information on quilting events: http://www.northernillinoisquiltfest.com/events.html

October 20, 2011, 1:30 p.m. McHenry County Historical Society Museum: Dr. Clarice Boswell Presents – Pre-Civil War Quilts: Their Hidden Codes to the Freedom of Slaves through the Underground Railroad at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum. (Union, Illinois)

Dr. Jone’s Dream: Equal Education Long Before Brown v. Topeka Kansas

I teach at the world’s oldest and largest international school where the annual tution costs as much as a year of elite university in the states. My students, from affluent families valuing education, cannot understand how minorities denied equal education remain powerless within societies. In 1896 the 14th Amendment guaranteed full rights of citizenship to anyone born in the USA, yet Plessy v. Ferguson, a ruling that same year, upheld social segregation of “white and colored races”. Over a half century later little had changed.  The “separate but equal” doctrine provided the legal basis for racial segregation until the 1954 Brown v. the Board of Topeka, Kansas case. Thirteen families representing twenty school children, led by the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African American judge, challenged the Supreme Court’s decision and deemed the doctrine unconstitutional.  This helped spark the Civil Rights Movement and led to integration of not only schools, but also public places.

Dr Jones & school children

Dr Jones & school children

In 1909, long before that epic battle,  Laurence Jones, a black man with a vision, turned an abandoned sheep shed into The Piney Woods School with meager donations from an impoverished community. This was the beginning of his dream  to educate underprivileged black children in destitute, rural Rankin County, Mississippi.  Over a century later, that one room school has become a thriving 2,000 acres campus, with a high school that can justly boast “we are changing America, and the world, one student at a time.” Alumnus went on to Princeton, Howard, and Tuskegee pursuing degrees in medicine, education, marketing and other careers to become leaders in their fields.

When my grandparents, Ralph and Betty McKinzie, retired from teaching at NIU and DeKalb High School, they dedicated two years of service teaching at Piney Woods.  During Easter break 1968, on a trip to visit my grandparents, we drove through the deep South where I saw ram shackled lean-tos, the remnants of slavery.

Jim, Ralph, Betty McKinzie, Martha Olson, Dr. Jones

 

“How come the Negroes live in shacks?” I asked with the innocence of an ten-year-old.

“Because they are so poor.”

“Why are they so poor?”

“Because they don’t have any land.”

“Hey, I see lots of land,” I said pointing towards a sprawling plantation with stately white pillars. “The whole town could fit in that house; it’s bigger than a hotel!”

At Piney Woods School, my brother and I played basketball with the black boys on a dirt court in a sun-baked paradise surrounded by pine and honey-scented pink and white magnolias. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

“Isn’t it great how well they get along?” my dad asked.

My sisters and new friends

“If only we could remain children in our hearts,” my grandma replied.

As we piled suitcases on top of the Rambler to head back North, a young girl peeked behind her big sister’s cotton skirt to stare at the first white family she’d ever seen.

“Schootch together,” Grandma said, “so I can take your picture.”

I stood by my new friend, the color of chocolate, and beamed as the camera clicked.  Then I reached over and took her soft warm hand in mine. It fit just perfect.

Photographs of my childhood remain etched in my soul forever.  Just as my grandma had hoped, I remained a child in my heart, befriending people from all four corners of the globe in my international community where I teach as an adult.

 

http://www.pineywoods.org/

 

 

 

Black History Month: Lessons of Equality Ingrained from “Coach Mac”

Education and equality were tenets of my heritage. Henry Fields, the first African-American pro basketball player in Europe, mentored me in international ball, but our friendship would never have developed without my family’s upbringing teaching tolerance.

Life may not fair, but great coaches are. My grandfather, Ralph “Coach Mac” McKinzie, taught fairness by his actions, not words, in a college coaching tenure at Eureka College and Northern Illinois University (NIU) that lasted 70 years. Just ask my dad, an All- American at NIU, who argued during a game while playing for grandpa and was benchedMac, coach & player.

During the decades before the Civil Rights Movement, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional sports in 1947, an under current of racial tension escalated. Even in the liberal North, an underlying assumption of separate but equal prevailed. In the law of the land, when it came to gender and race, nothing was equal. But in my grandpa’s eyes no man was better than another. Under Coach Mac’s creed, equality was non negotiable.

In the l940’s, an opposing school in southern Illinois refused to let Earl Dryden, NIU’S black center sleep in the dormitory.

“What do you mean, my big man has to sleep in the basement!” Grandpa said to the host.

“N***** aren’t allowed in the dorms.”

“Then damn it! Give me a cot!” Coach Mac fumed. “I’ll sleep in the basement, too.”

Former President Reagan remembered those character-building lessons instilled on the football field when he played football for Coach Mac at Eureka College 1928-1932.

© Off Duty, Mar.88

“I played football with Franklin Burkhardt and we remained lifelong friends,” President Reagan recounted when he introduced his Coach Mac at the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club where my grandpa was to receive the prestigious Timmie Award for his contribution to college football.

“It wasn’t so easy for a young black man to come to college and make his way back in that day,” Reagan continued, “But Dr. Burkhardt went onto become the athletic director at Morgan State. Before Burgie died, he said something most fitting for the man I am about to introduce, ‘the man who had the most influence in my entire life was Coach Ralph McKinzie.’”

Great coaches walk the talk and invest emotionally in shaping their players’ lives. My grandpa’s heart was always in the right place. Because of his influence in my life, I think my heart is right with the world too.