To young black girls,
I know it’s not easy when you look in magazines, on TV, or even in your neighborhood and you only see black women portrayed in a certain light. One of the biggest challenges I struggled with was not so much other people’s perception of me but how I perceived myself.
When I was a young girl, people would always tell me that one day, I would become the first woman to play in the NBA. However, that all changed in 1997 when women got their own professional basketball league in the U.S., the WNBA. At the time, I was seven years old. All of a sudden, women had their own space to play and get paid. Many of the women in the WNBA were black women. That mattered to me. Watching women who looked like me and who were living my dream made my goals appear more attainable.
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Every day I was in a 94 by 50 feet box, aka a basketball court, practicing, competing and chasing my future. It was a box that, for many others, shaped my identity.
In high school, I went to a private catholic school and I lived in a wealthy white suburb. At school, a lot of the black kids played sports and I was viewed as a cool black kid. People liked me because I was a good basketball player. I was the kid that got a scholarship to Notre Dame. However, I didn’t feel genuinely connected to that many people there. I didn’t feel like they really knew me or cared about me.
They asked me questions, like “Do you want to have a rap battle? I bet I could beat you.”
They were stereotyping me because I was black – those same stereotypes we see so often within the media we consume.
In college, at Notre Dame, the contrast between life within that 94 by 50 feet box and life outside of it continued to grow. While I loved my coaches and I loved my team, I did not feel like I belonged anywhere else on that campus.
From friends whose parents treated me well but were angry if their daughters dated a black man to professors that felt that athletics gave me a pass and I didn’t deserve to be there, I felt constant, sometimes blatant, reminders that I was different. Ultimately, I found myself gravitating toward the black students at Notre Dame.
While I always knew I didn’t want to be just an athlete, basketball is where I had the most role models and a lot of opportunities. As a result, like the women I once admired, I, too, had the chance to play professional ball. In 2012, the Minnesota Lynx drafted me with the third overall pick and during my time playing I won two WNBA championships.
I love basketball. However, basketball was what I did. It has never been who I am. While other people may have seen me as just an athlete, through the years, I started to find the confidence to see myself in a way that maybe some do not. I began to explore interests beyond the stereotypes.
A couple of years ago, when I was still playing in the W, I took the frustration that so many WNBA players feel and wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post asking, “Why won’t men stop challenging me to one-on-one?” It was about insecure men who wanted a chance to prove that no woman, professional or not, could beat them on a basketball court. By going public with that incessant and annoying experience I opened up a window for myself into all the other things that are out there for me.
I heard from so many women about the common challenges that they face in their work similar to what I wrote about in the op-ed. It was an eye-opener for me and an important moment as far as channeling my voice and figuring out how I can be who I am.
After all of the feedback I received I decided to launch Devereaux Productions, my own production company, to tell the untold and inspiring stories of women in sports. I started with my peers from the W.
Most WNBA players don’t make the majority of their money in the WNBA. They have other businesses and pursuits. I made it my goal to tell those stories about female athletes and who they are when they are not playing their sport.
I am proud to say I produced my first mini-documentary on my former teammate, Rebekkah Brunson, who started a waffle truck business. Her wife was pregnant and they had the baby on the day of what was supposed to be their soft opening. Also, I started an interview series with WNBA players diving into open, unfiltered conversations with them.
I even had the opportunity to co-host a podcast with broadcaster LaChina Robinson. Both LaChina and her producer ,Terrika Foster-Brasby, have been awesome allies. They are always willing to help me, give me advice and introduce me to other people in the industry.
The more I venture outside of basketball, the more I realize that there are people out there who look like me and share my interests. Sometimes, it’s people who are already out there working in these fields. Other times, it’s people who want to do what I want to do but need someone, like me, to take the first step to open that door.
It’s crucial for all of you as young women, specifically, young black women, to fight to be in whatever space appeals to you, even if you don’t see anyone there that looks like you and me. We can change the perception for other girls and create more opportunities for us all. To do so, take the time to get to know yourself without allowing outside opinions to influence you or stop you from pursuing whatever is that you want to do.
For me, I am never going to define myself by one passion, as I am going to continue to grow a variety of skill sets while trying to be the best at all of them.
As for you, my hope is that you go through life unafraid to be yourself. You can’t let what you might not see turn into what you don’t become.
The world may try to give us boundaries, but I have learned that even though I am very good at playing inside a box, none of us, including myself, should live our whole lives in one.
Don’t let ignorance box you out of your dreams.
Your future is yours,