Many college students dream of changing the world through careers in medicine, business, law, media or politics. College athletes dream of making it to the highest level of their sport and filling their shelves with championships and MVP trophies. Many have some other goals in mind, too.
Taleah Dixon is a 5-foot-10 junior guard for the Loyola women’s basketball team. She sat out her sophomore season due to a torn ACL suffered last fall during a preseason practice. Dixon, who is studying journalism at Loyola, has been diligent in her rehab and is slated to return to the hardwood this fall.
Isaiah Hart is a 5-foot-11 senior guard for the Loyola men’s basketball team. He has played in all 95 of the Greyhounds’ games since his freshman year, starting all but four of them. He has averaged 9.9 points, 3.0 assists and 2.1 rebounds during his three years at Loyola.
Dixon and Hart have both taken on leading roles in conversations with teammates about social justice following the death of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis May 25. Floyd’s death sparked a national conversation about racism and police accountability.
Empowered By Those Closest To Them
Dixon knows she doesn’t have all the answers, but she does have her own experiences to rely on. One of those experiences came when she joined her high school classmates in staging a die-in to honor victims of police brutality in 2015. Dixon didn’t appreciate the response from some of her peers; she said there was no excuse for students to not recognize the issue.
Fast forward to 2020, and Dixon has taken the lead on her team group chats, starting uncomfortable discussions about social injustice. The team started a Google document so players could voice their feelings about the current social justice movement or recommend articles and documentaries about the ongoing movement across the nation.
“I’ve kind of been the person everyone has come to talk and ask questions if they may not understand,” Dixon said. “My Black teammates have also spoken up, but I’m kind of always the one that gets the spark going for the most part.”
“Whether it’s basketball, school, racial problems, literally anything, my coach has always commended me for that,” Dixon added.
Greyhounds women’s basketball head coach Joe Logan has encouraged Dixon to help educate her teammates and coaches. The conversations led to players taking the initiative to start players-only Zoom calls to talk about movements across the country.
“We just wanted it to really feel free and be comfortable with one another,” Dixon said. “For [our] freshman it can be intimidating sometimes.”
Logan also invited the men’s basketball head coach Tavaras Hardy to host a Zoom meeting for the women’s team. The men’s and women’s teams already have a strong relationship, Logan said, and having the perspective Hardy brings as a Black man (who also coaches young Black men) in recounting experiences he has had with the police helped provide another great and informative conversation, Logan said.
One of the main lessons Logan took away from the meeting and was most impressed with was the impact a simple question Hardy asked the Greyhounds: “Are you ready to have these conversations?”
The team answered the question with a resounding yes, but Logan realized just how hard it can be when you haven’t previously established the groundwork by talking about social justice, race or diversity.
“It was all really interactive with our team,” Logan said, “I thought it was a great call. It wasn’t just [Hardy] lecturing. We talked about collaborating with [the men’s team on] campus.”
In a further showcase of unity and compassion, the men’s team hosted a roundtable discussion via Zoom in September. Hart said the Zoom session brought the team together because players told similar stories about their experiences with police. Hart also told a story of going to a Sports Authority back home in Georgia to play ping-pong with friends. He remembered moving around different spots in the store and being followed around by a store clerk.
Hart said his white and Spanish teammates pledged to stand with their Black teammates.
“Hearing those type of things, it brings you closer as a team,” Hart said, “It’s like, ‘Wow, no matter what color we are we all got each other’s back. We all see what’s happening. We’re all going for the same thing, which is the right thing.”
Dixon’s activism doesn’t just stop with her team. The junior guard walked the walk and attended a nonviolent, youth-led protest against police brutality in Baltimore back in June. Dixon described the experience as “beautiful” and ran counter to the reputation the city got following the 2015 demonstrations following the death of Freddie Gray.
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ive always been one to speak up and use my voice, but today i march with my brothers, my sisters, and allies to make sure our voices are heard! We need a change! Protesting might not be for everyone, but voting is! signing petitions is! donating to the right causes is! you either on our side or the racist side! #blacklivesmatter✊🏾
Dixon has also been on Zoom calls with other Patriot League athletes and is part of the league’s new social justice coalition, which is designed to “address the continuous racial injustices taking place throughout the United States. … As student-athletes, we will use our collective voice and platform to influence real change in our communities.”
“I think [that] it’s very important for the league to say something,” Dixon said. “The players are predominantly white in our league, but that’s part of the problem. When you are comfortable and stuck in a bubble you have no idea what privilege really is. You have no idea how much other people outside of you are going through something bigger than just basketball.”
Hart has taken the time to not only speak his mind with his team about the issues he cares about, he’s also taken a step back to learn more while also making sure that he doesn’t push his viewpoints on to other people.
“Learning and giving out true facts, that’s what’s holding it all together,” Hart said.
Hart joined Loyola’s Student Athletes Advisory Committee (SAAC), which started a voting registration initiative called Every Hound Counts that helped Loyola students register to vote. With the men’s team having a day off Nov. 3, the 2020 election will also be Hart’s first time casting a vote.
“So I have to learn all these policies — what’re they telling us, what part of this is a lie, how does this affect taxes, all these things,” Hart said. “How does it affect low-income communities? And so that can become a big rush. And that’s what one thing I’ve been trying to learn. What are these candidates saying?”
Meanwhile, the path that Dixon is currently taking has left not only Logan and his coaching staff proud, but her teammates, too — especially her best friend and classmate, junior guard Laryn Edwards. The two have been close since they met and became roommates during their freshman year. As they grew in their friendship, Dixon grew more comfortable in her ability to inform her teammates.
“I think she’s helped people understand [who] didn’t before,” Edwards said, referring to their teammates, coaches and classmates. “She’s given examples, stories, and told us her side, her opinion. I think it’s really helped with the team just because we’re all from different parts of the U.S. and we came from different lifestyles.
“So, hearing her opinion, hearing the stories that she found or the documentaries, movies and books that she found to help us learn and help us understand has been really helpful.”
Edwards called Dixon a “natural leader” after experiencing the way Dixon advocates for social justice. The effort Dixon puts forth helped Edwards gain more confidence to speak up on what she cares about.
Coming from a middle class and predominantly white suburban community, Edwards said she was glad her best friend pushed her to speak her own truth to her circle of friends.
“I honestly never talked to [my friends] about [social justice],” Edwards said. “I’m the only Black girl in my friend group where I live. [Dixon] told me I need to have these conversations with my friends, that I shouldn’t be afraid to, which helped me. She’s the person to go to help me with these situations.”
Solutions And What’s To Come
As an aspiring journalist and current college athlete, Dixon has long been interested in staying in sports as a broadcaster and analyst. She’s now unsure of what she wants to do long term in journalism, but she is passionate about making sure all people have a voice no matter their race, sex or gender.
Above all, Dixon wants to change the narrative around Baltimore and prioritize the good in the Black community over the negative stories that tend to garner more attention than the positive.
“I just want all stories to be heard — the good and the bad,” Dixon said. “The media really shows all the bad, which is kind of frustrating. So, that’s what I kind of want to do. Whether it’s athletes, professionals, students, I just want to show the good that beautiful Black people can do and are doing.”
One step Hart wants to take is creating an affordable clothing brand catered towards low-income families. The senior guard and his stepmother want to eventually cofound a recreation center back in his hometown of Murrow, Ga.
In Hart’s view, having access to a safe place like a recreation center will give the kids back home something constructive to do. To his memory, there are only two recreation centers that are close by. Because Hart spent so much time at these centers, he will always advocate for them or even outdoor basketball courts or fields.
“Growing up, I always played at rec centers,” Hart said. “But I felt like sometimes those rec centers had a lot of rules that makes it kind of hard for everybody to attend, and also [there aren’t] that many. It’s only two that I can think of, and I feel like there should be more because of the high volume of kids in my community.”
Photo Credits: Larry French and Hannahhally Photography