Use Your Peripheral Vision

This is part of a series titled, Hope Speaks for Social Justice, written by former Hope student-athletes of color. Their words seek to educate and activate the Hope community in the nation’s quest to end racial injustice.

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Some of my most vivid memories as a Hope College women’s basketball player was time spent in practice dedicated to defense. Arguably our team’s best asset was to move in unison and prevent opponents’ from executing their game plan.

Our mantra was consistent:

“Use your peripheral vision; Keep your head on a swivel; Don’t get caught sleeping; and, Make sure you help the helper.”

These commands are repeated by all my coaches, at every practice, over and over, until it is brainwashed in each player’s mind. We were to move on instinct, as one.

This winning approach and mantra was not just embedded in my mind on the basketball court, however. It also became a devastating reality as a Black student-athlete when:

  • Using my peripheral vision meant noticing the college’s “brand” as a safe haven for racial/ethnic-superiority sentiment; or in other words, “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”
  • Keeping my head on a swivel meant acknowledging the older white men from the community debating Obama’s country of origin while working my shift at the Dow Center.
  • Falling asleep in my Cultural Heritage class was done so I didn’t have to watch an old play featuring actors in blackface.
  • Realizing that the few African Americans on the faculty and staff, who wanted to help, could feel just as marginalized as Black students.

In America, it is impossible to not be impacted or influenced by white supremacy. It is woven into the fabric of our systems and has continued to devastate Black communities. Learning our history as a political science major, while simultaneously experiencing racism, is almost debilitating for a young woman who wants to avoid being labeled “angry.” James Baldwin, a world-renowned novelist, said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I couldn’t agree more.

Now in the year 2020, I truly believe that our college community can refocus, tie up our laces and work a new mantra into our daily practice.

  • Use our peripheral vision – Seek out what is easy to miss, what makes us uncomfortable, and who we do not agree with.
  • Keep our head on a swivel – Look at all sides of a situation before jumping to judgement or defense.
  • Don’t get caught sleeping – Change doesn’t have a timeline or speed limit. Let’s make it happen now since it is a priority.
  • Make sure we help the helpers – When a person of color is helping us, our team and organization achieve equitable success. Make sure they are supported and well compensated.

I have the utmost faith in humankind that if we all practice a mantra such as this, over and over, we can reprogram what has been brainwashed in all of us. Imagine how great of a community we could be if we protect and empower all Black people on instinct and work as one!

Living this mantra could be Hope College’s best asset.

Author Kamara Sudberry is a 2015 graduate of Hope College who majored in business management and political science and played basketball for the Flying Dutch. After graduation, Sudberry served as an AmeriCorps Member in Grand Rapids and now works for the Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health System within the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Center of Expertise.    

Kamara Sudberry ’15 in action versus Calvin in 2015.

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3 Comments

  1. Kamara,

    Thank you for your powerful words! I love the proposed mantra; use our peripheral, head on a swivel, don’t get caught sleeping, and help the helpers.
    Keep telling your story so we all can know more and do better.

  2. Kamara,
    So well said! In all my many years of coaching, I always wanted players to learn “life lessons” and not just basketball plays and rules. I am very proud of you and to say I am one of your many coaches.
    Your four mantra rules ring in my ears as a challenge and opportunity for everyone.
    As you know the best offense is a great defense. A defense with your mantra as its basis is a wonderful game plan.
    Biggie

  3. Thank you, Kamara, for coming to Hope and for sharing your perspective. We are all better when we hear your voice and gain insight from your experience.

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