“We all want the same goal.” Women’s basketball team organizes march, unity fair to speak out against racial injustice


UK women’s basketball senior KeKe McKinney holds up a sign during the UK women’s basketball team’s social justice march on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The Kentucky women’s basketball team spends most of their time in the public eye on the Memorial Coliseum court. 

But Wednesday, they congregated across the street at the Bowman statue, and there was more than a ball game at stake. 

The players, along with students, community members and other UK athletes, were gathered for a social justice march and accompanying unity fair, organized by the team. 

The idea for the event came four weeks prior, when the women’s basketball team decided to follow in other teams’ footsteps and skip practice. 

However, the team still showed up at practice time, UK women’s basketball player Olivia Owens said, simply exchanging their typical drills and conditioning for a serious discussion on what they wanted to do as a team to address the social injustices occurring around the world. 

Over 100 people attended the march, which began in front of the William T. Young library on UK’s campus. Rhyne Howard and Dre’Una Edwards led the procession toward Memorial Coliseum, cutting down Rose Street and chanting along the way. 

The attendees included student-athletes from UK’s men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, track and field, cross country and gymnastics teams. 

“It was great to see that they stand with us and that we’re essentially all one—we all want the same goal,” Howard said. 

However, the men’s basketball team was noticeably absent, which sophomore Mercy-Kajo Evanson said disappointed her, since MBB has a large platform. 

Evanson, a sophomore and finance major, said she feels that UK allowing the team to host the march means the university is supportive of racial justice. 

“In what ways and how much I can’t say or determine, but it does make me feel better about my school,” she said.

In contrast, the women’s basketball players said that they personally haven’t heard UK speak out much about racial injustice, which was one reason they felt it was important to speak out. 

“I would love to hear more about it,” said KeKe McKinney, a member of UK’s women’s basketball team. “I’d love to have seen more statements, seen more things going on about what’s going on in our world today.” 

Two other participants, freshmen Brittany David and Trinity Bratchett, agreed that an event like this was especially important at a PWI (predominantly-white institution) like UK. 

“You can learn things you didn’t know before, a lot of things to do to expand knowledge of Black Lives Matter,” Bratchett, a journalism major, said.

David, an accounting major, added that the march was empowering.

“It’s comforting because you can see people that look like you,” she said.

 Vanessa Pryor, a junior business management major, said she came to support the women’s basketball players, some of which she knows. 

“My thing is, look at the teams—they’re predominantly black,” Pryor said. “You have to think about who you’re supporting. You have to think about who you’re cheering for.”

The march ended in the courtyard around the Bowman Statue, where information tables were set up for the Unity Fair.

Although the event was originally just going to be a march, the team decided to add this fair afterwards so that participants could learn about how they can help make a tangible change. They set up posters and informational tables including stations on the background of the Black Lives Matter Movement, mental health awareness and voting. 

During the fair, UKPD Chief Joe Monroe held a Q&A session with the students. He said that a legitimate police department needs transparency, trust and accountability to function successfully, characteristics he hopes to foster through events like Wednesday’s march. 

Hearing about Monroe’s recent initiatives to create more of an inclusive environment made Owens, who is new to UK this year, feel more comfortable on campus, she said.  

“We felt like it was important to have a conversation and Q&A with the campus police because what we want to do is to be able to bring together the black community and also police officers to re-establish the relationship and to gain trust,” Owens said. “We just want to make it clear, and to also show that we can work together.”

The players said that they thought the unity fair was a success, since they were able to create an environment where people felt comfortable asking questions and educating themselves. 

“I think everyone came out willing to learn and willing to hear what we had to say, and just be there for us and be supportive of us and what we were trying to accomplish,” Howard said. 

McKinney added that the positivity created a vibe that felt “like a family cookout, even though they were strangers.” 

The basketball team’s coaches have shown strong support toward the players, both on and off the court, McKinney said. 

“They love us not just as players but as people,” she said. “They care about what’s going on in our world and about how we feel about it.”

The support isn’t superficial, Owens said. 

“It’s not just, ‘Okay we might just post a little flyer or whatever and you guys do whatever,’” she said. “They’re out there with us, and they mean it.” 

Howard has one thing to say to those who don’t support the team’s efforts to speak out against racial injustices. 

“They can just see themselves through the door,” she said. 

Owens added that no matter how hurtful the backlash is, they aren’t going to stop. 

“We gotta just keep moving on, and we gotta keep putting our foot forward, and we gotta continue to talk about the things that affect us our families and our teammates,” she said. “We just continue to focus on those who do support us.”

Owens said that while they are still in the midst of planning, people should be on the lookout for future events like Wednesday’s march and unity fair. 

“We’re not done,” she said. “We’re far from done.”