Women’s Basketball Team Learns Life-Lasting Lessons about MLK in Atlanta

Back in December 2018, the Hope College women’s basketball team traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to compete in the Oglethorpe Holiday Classic. The trip was not just about competition, though. Thanks to the organizing efforts of Vanessa Greene, Hope’s associate dean of students and director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and the support of the college’s Orange and Blue Fund, the team also took in first-hand looks and lectures on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and America’s Civil Rights Movement.

Hope women’s basketball meets civil rights activist Xernona Clayton, center, in Atlanta in December.

Head coach Brian Morehouse and the Flying Dutch spent two additional days in Atlanta visiting the King Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s childhood home. They also met with prominent civil rights activists Xernona Clayton and Bunnie Jackson-Ransom. Three Hope student-athletes share what they gained from the experience: junior Arika Tolbert of Lathrup Village, Michigan (Detroit Country Day HS), sophomore Natalee Kott of Manistee, Michigan (Manistee HS), and freshman Hannah Smith of Midland, Michigan (Midland HS).

Xernona Clayton speaks with the Flying Dutch.

Describe an impactful moment from your experience learning about the history of Civil Rights in Atlanta.

Hannah Smith ’22

One moment that really stood out to me was our meeting with Xernona Clayton, who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement and tremendously impacted the nation we live in today. For example, she denounced the Ku Klux Klan by speaking with their leader. She also worked to desegregate all of the hospitals in the United States. Although she may be small in stature, she has had a big influence on our society and is still working to provoke change in Atlanta. I cannot describe how impactful this meeting was to our team; to not only learn our nation’s history firsthand but to be inspired to create positive change no matter what we choose to pursue in life. My greatest takeaway from Ms. Clayton is to wake up everyday with a purpose to fulfill and to impact others in my everyday life.

Arika Tolbert ’20

The most impactful moment I had on the Atlanta trip regarding the Civil Rights Movement was meeting and talking to Xernona Clayton. She told us her story in the Civil Rights Movement. It was very impactful to talk to someone first hand who was experiencing these issues and is still involved in trying to improve our country’s current circumstances.

Natalee Kott ’21

I’d not heard of Xernona Clayton before (traveling to Atlanta). She is an incredible woman. You realize if someone like her didn’t take part in the Civil Rights struggle, the country wouldn’t be what it is today. To listen to her story was amazing. 

Bunnie Jackson-Ransom addresses the team at the Cascade United Methodist Church.

What does Martin Luther King Day mean to you?

Arika Tolbert ’20

Martin Luther King Day means very much to me because I am a huge advocate for equal rights. It represents a man who strived to make our country better through equality among all people, regardless of color. This day is a constant reminder that without Martin Luther King Jr., I may not have the right to a good education, high-quality public service, or any friends of a different race.

Hannah Smith ’22

Martin Luther King Day to me means a day of service. In high school, we always had the day off, and as a member of Student Council, we would organize a school-wide day of service for students to sign up and serve at various locations in our hometown. As a Student Council, our goal was to have each student serve in someway, whether that being pursuing a passion they may have or serving their next door neighbor in need. I believe that Martin Luther King Day embodies serving others and spreading kindness.

Natalee Kott ’21

This is a day of inspiration and motivation. Knowing all of the incredible things that Martin Luther King did and all of the hardships he faced, but never gave up, encourages me to follow my dreams. Even when the going gets tough, I look up to people like MLK to know that anything is possible if you work for it and follow your heart.

How helpful is it for you and your teammates to have educational opportunities together off the court like this?

Arika Tolbert ’20

I think it is very important for my teammates and me to have educational opportunities such as these off the court. These types of experiences create long-lasting impacts or memories of things we may have never learned about if it were not for this trip. In times like these, we are allowed to grow together in ways we wouldn’t experience through basketball.

Natalee Kott ’21

To have educational opportunities like this means a lot. Looking ahead to the future, you want to make sure you have opportunities like this to learn. You want to make sure you’re ready and prepared for the future. Hope definitely offers a ton of extracurricular activities. That’s really important. That’s one of the reasons I came here.

Hannah Smith ’22

I believe that we are extremely blessed to have these educational experiences off the court, in which we can learn about our history and how we can impact others. Our Atlanta trip was unbelievably beneficial for our team to bond and build greater relationships with one another off the court. I’m so happy that Hope provides our team with these experiences outside of basketball.

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