Growing up, basketball was very prevalent in my family.
My aunt was a member of the very first integration of Black women into basketball at the University of Oklahoma, and my dad even made his way to the NBA and completed a successful ten-year career.
Everywhere I looked, basketball was there.
Front and center in my life.
I’ve always believed that you are a product of your environment and those with whom you surround yourself on a daily basis.
Members of my family were doing big things on the basketball court, and it became the sole mission that I, too, could make an impact on this world through basketball.
I began chasing that dream.
While the dream to play basketball at the highest level remained steadfast over the course of my career, my family always told me that there was more to life than sports.
They pushed me to be a student first and an athlete second.
Undoubtedly, basketball could open doors of opportunity and enhance my life in a variety of ways, but a quality education had the power to go far beyond that. I did not want basketball to be the sole defining factor in my life’s journey.
Because of my success on the court, however, college opportunities began to present themselves during my high school days at Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas.
It was more important than ever that I remained true to who I was as a student, player, and person.
Throughout the recruitment process, I did just that.
With each and every visit I took, I made it known that I was not just a 6’7″ power forward with scoring and rebounding potential, but more importantly, I was a 4.0 student-athlete who had his sights set on big things.
SMU embraced that mindset from the very beginning and wanted nothing more than for me to succeed, on and off the court. I knew instantly that I had found a home.
They supported me every single step of the way and truly rallied behind me in my journey to be a successful student-athlete.
They promoted an alumni pipeline for learning opportunities and often featured me, along with other SMU athletes, in newsletters and wide-reaching events.
This level of involvement and exposure presented opportunities that I could have never dreamed of.
I became an active member of a community of people from all different walks of life who were all brought together as one.
You see, basketball has a way of doing that.
It’s a great outlet for everyone involved and allows athletes to impact the world through their play.
My dream of inspiring others through this game was coming true, right before my eyes.
Growing up with a father who played in the NBA, I had the unique opportunity to interact with and be positively influenced by stars like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
In those remarkable moments, I remember thinking one day, I could make a difference for a young kid with big dreams, too.
I could make an impression on this world and promote positive change within.
What I did not realize at the time but quickly learned as I aged and matured — you do not need to be a basketball player to inspire others.
You can impact your community through a variety of platforms.
And so, a new journey began. I was on a quest to be excellent in all aspects of my life.
From that point forward, each and every time I took the court, walked into the classroom, or stepped outside of my home, I was determined to put that excellence on full display for all to see.
Here I stand, at the age of twenty-four, as a second-year analyst for Goldman Sachs, still chasing a better version of “me” and looking to have an impact on the world as well as my own personal community.
SMU has and always will hold a very special place in my heart.
The Black Excellence brunch will be an opportunity for me to give back to a place that has given so much to me.
More than anything, I look forward to meeting and interacting with other black professionals. I cannot wait for everyone’s journey to be on full display and learn more about the quality examples that all of these individuals have set.
For me, quite honestly, that is what Black Excellence is.
It’s ensuring that you are setting a quality example for generations to follow.
When I think about my aunt, who broke barriers in college basketball and my father, who flourished in the NBA, I think about the challenges that they both had to endure to afford me the opportunities that I have today.
They, along with countless others who came before them, made great sacrifices to ensure that those who followed would have opportunities that they could have never dreamed of.
I realize, very clearly, just how blessed I am and what a privilege it is to be in the position that I am in today.
While progress has been made, there is little doubt that the world has a great deal of work left to do.
Change is still needed.
I have spent time in recent years learning more about my history as a black man in America.
From holidays such as Juneteenth and why we honor the day to events like Black Wall Street and the significance of that tragic event, this journey of learning has left me with overwhelming feelings of sadness, empathy, and pride.
I have an obligation — to myself, my family, and to the generations who have come before me — to honor the legacy.
I have a responsibility to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be.
These individuals worked too hard and endured far too much for me not to strive for excellence in basketball, in the workforce, and in my community.
I will never stop chasing a better version of “me”.
The 2023 SMU Black Excellence Brunch is in the Miller Boulevard Ballroom on Sunday, February 19 at 11 a.m. The panelists are Rickey Bolden ’87, Alisha Filmore ’13, James T. Mobley ’81 and Everett Ray ’21.
For more information or to register, click here.