Why Minority Voices Matter

As the mother of bi-racial sons, there are many moments where I’ve had to admit I don’t know how to answer questions they ask. Thankfully, in most areas, I can send them to my husband to explain, guide, or establish a boundary. Ordell has done a wonderful job ensuring our sons understand that they have a rich and varied cultural heritage.

Unfortunately, one area where we’ve both been unable to offer a lot of guidance with the boys’ hair. Ordell has shaved his head since our dating years. So, while he’s very aware of how to care for African-American hair, he doesn’t need a barber or hair products.

When Levi asked to get twists in his hair, we didn’t have any issues with his choice, but we were at a loss as to how to ensure he received the proper care. The challenge with twists is that it takes a lot of care and attention to ensure they are set properly. Additionally, as the twists grow out, the maintenance requires some skill to maintain them.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that after a few YouTube videos, it was clear that I would need some help to learn how to help Levi properly maintain his hair. In fact, I was so overwhelmed I wasn’t even certain of which direction to take. You see, the first thing I learned about twists is that there are hundreds of techniques, even more types of hair products, and everyone insists their method is the only one that truly works.

I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I was when Adi Puckett walked into my favorite coffee shop with her hair the most beautiful, even, twists I’ve seen. I shared with Adi that Levi had received a set of twists that he was having trouble maintaining and wondered if she could point me in the direction of a beautician to fix things.

Before I knew it, Adi had scheduled a time to take care of Levi’s hair. She’s sent me a detailed list of products to purchase ahead of time and prepared me to receive lessons along the way. Of course, we paid her for her time. However, the time Adi spent with us was invaluable because she brought life experience to the table.

Here’s Why Minority Voices Matter

Even in a situation where I desired to educate myself about the minority experience, I fell short. I had all the resources I could access at my disposal, including books, magazines, YouTube, and Pinterest. Still, this particular skill isn’t one that I could glean from research alone.

Adi didn’t just teach us how to style Levi’s hair; she taught Levi how to care for his hair. Adi talked to Levi like a loving aunt as she explained that there are many different textures among black hair. His hair is soft and curls very tightly. She showed him how just a very small amount of Almond Oil would completely change the look of his curls.

Adi chose her technique and products based on Levi’s hair texture and length. She needed to see and feel his hair before deciding on a final plan. In addition, she brought experience to the table, something the research wasn’t able to teach.

Adi talked to Levi about her own hair and her experiences. She talked warned him about things not to do. Adi used the word “we” when explaining how to care for his hair which positioned her as an expert. Someone to ask questions of at the moment and the future. Most importantly, Adi reminded Levi he wasn’t alone in this experience.

For the first time in months, Levi asked questions and receive an immediate answer rather than having to hear, “I don’t know, let’s look it up.” The confidence Adi brought to the table helped Levi commit to the care of his hair. If Mrs. Adi said we needed a swim and shower cap, we were picking them up from the grocery store. If Mrs. Adi said to keep his hair covered, then his hair was going to stay covered.

And when Mrs. Adi came over to check on things and announced it was time for me to tighten his twists at the roots, it needed to be done that day.

We Can All Apply This Lesson Somewhere

While this is one experience, I believe that this example is a lesson most can apply somewhere, if not all of us. For example, in 2021, the NFL reports that 57.1% of athletes are African American, 24% are white, 9.4% are 2 or more races. (see the full breakdown here)

According to racial equality activist Richard Lapchick, the NBA in 2020 was composed of 74.2% black players, and 16.9% are white players. In addition, there was 6.3% of the players classified as “other” races. (See the full breakdown here.)

Forbes reports that “People of color represent 69% of NFL players and 35% of assistant coaches. But yet, only two head coaches are Black men.”

Ebony magazine reports, “Of the 30 NBA coaches leading teams at the end of the 2020-2021 regular season, seven are Black, or 23.3 percent. And those Black head coaches in the NBA now, have more than proven their worth in comparison to their non-Black counterparts.” 

Things don’t get any better at the college level. The National Coalition of Minority Football Forum was launched because:

“Just 10.77 % Of Coaches At Elite Football Universities Are Black At the beginning of the 2019 college football season, there were just 14 African-American head coaches out of the 130 schools in the NCAA’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS)”

We All Learn From Minority Voices

Now, we all know that there’s much more to coaching than X’s and O’s. Coaches spend hours on leadership and character development with their teams. There are entire books and programs dedicated to teaching coaches how to help their athletes become stronger leaders and better teammates. Those programs are great, but the dynamic is often white coaches speaking to rooms full of black athletes.

Black athletes deserve to have leaders on the field that look and sound just like them. They deserve to have conversations where coaches can talk about life experiences and start a conversation with the word “we” rather than “you.” Black athletes deserve to be part of the conversation rather than have lectures exclusively from white coaches whom other white coaches are mentoring.

Not only do black athletes deserve to learn from black coaches, but I believe that white coaches need minority voices in their lives. Just like my experience with Adi, there are many things that white coaches will not learn simply from research.

Evidence reveals that even when people are aware of their implicit biases, they don’t change their behaviors. Unfortunately, this means that most people aren’t going to change their habits, preferences, or biases even if they are informed that their behavior harms those they are supposed to help.

As creatures of comfort, we expect others to adapt to our preferences rather than extending empathy to others. When given a choice, we will surround ourselves with people who think like us, look like us, and affirm everything we say and do. Coaches will always have the choice to create an environment that presents the illusion that their perspective is correct, even if it’s simply their personal preference.

When we humble ourselves and invite different perspectives into our lives, we grow and mature. As others share their experiences, we increase the opportunity to strengthen our empathy and learn more about the whole human experience. When we extend empathy, eventually, we will gain people’s trust enough to allow them to believe that they aren’t alone in their life experiences, even if they have to explain a bit more to us along the way. The best way for this to happen is to show people with our actions that we believe that minority voices matter.

At the very minimum, take time to ensure that any time you can incorporate diversity into your circle of influence you make the conscious choice to do so. If you’re a coach read books by minority coaches (other than Tony Dungy he’s not the only minority voice!) and seek out leadership development structures from minority voices. Get out of your silos!! There’s a wealth of valuable information and perspectives out there.

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