Unity defeats hate

Racism involving two players on the girls basketball team leads to stronger connections and learned lessons.

Nik Shay

You have a choice in life. 

You either stand up for people. Or you stand by and watch it happen.

These are the words of girls basketball coach Dan Harrison, who would rather have a team of “stander-uppers.”

“Any time there is an attack on someone, especially one of my team, I can’t fix it,” Harrison said. “I can’t change the person who posted, but I can help.”

Sophomores Naomi White and Destiny Smith, both basketball players, were the subject of racist Instagram posts in December on @dhs_black_people.

“I thought it was a joke,” Smith said. “… Then, like looking at it, and all the other (posts), it kind of hit me that it wasn’t really a joke, and that people were just trying to hurt people they don’t even know for no reason.”

Junior Addy Brown was one of the first players to hear about the post, and she decided to immediately take action. She told Harrison about the posts, insisting talks must be had. 

“We are a family,” she said. “That’s what our culture is about, being a family… We expect everyone to have each other’s back in any circumstance. So that was just disappointing for everyone to see.”

Harrison enacted a plan that included a team meeting and watching a video about white privilege together. 

The video, created in 2011, was of author Joy DeGruy recounting an experience with the racism she encountered at a grocery store with her sister-in-law, who is lighter-skinned than her. 

Principal Tim Hamblin was horrified by the posts of his students, so in order to raise awareness, he presented the same video to staff members at an in-service meeting in January. 

When one staffer told a school board member that the video created a hostile work environment, Hamblin was told to apologize to the staff for showing the video, and it became national news. 

“It’s good that it was shown,” said Melissa Royster, White’s mother. “… It’s important, especially for those in care of our children, to be comfortable being uncomfortable and understand and see how children that don’t look like you are being affected.”

School board president Michael Blankenship said during a school board meeting in February that he believed the Derby community would be against staff members watching the video. 

Mario Smith, Destiny’s father, disagreed.

“(Hamblin) did nothing wrong in bringing something to the forefront and shedding light on something,” he said. “But for (Blankenship) to say that if that video was shown in the community, he’s almost 100% certain that a little community would have backed them on not supporting, you know, a principal on showing that video is crazy.

“If the community fully supports that, that tells you we truly have a problem in Derby.”

Lessons have been learned. 

“Find ways to find common ground,” Harrison said. “We use the word family, we use the word together, it is easy to do when there’s no adversity. How are we going to respond when there’s adversity and we need to support each other?”

“I mean, everyone’s different, but I think it’s important we all are able to say how important we are.”