When Emory University’s track and field teams competed at the 2022 University Athletic Association (UAA) Outdoor Track & Field Championship last April, Washington University in St. Louis, who hosted the event, held a dinner for all the Black student-athletes competing. At the dinner, sophomore sprinter and jumper Geoff Point-du-Jour and his teammates learned that some UAA schools, unlike Emory, had Black student-athlete organizations. Point-du-Jour had already considered starting a similar organization at Emory, and his experience at the UAA Championship encouraged him to put his idea into motion.
Unbeknownst to Point-du-Jour, Emory men’s basketball senior forward Dubem Nnake was simultaneously working toward the same goal. Nnake’s older brother had been part of a Black student-athlete organization while playing basketball at Johns Hopkins University (Md.), and after picking his brain, Nnake began connecting with other Black Emory student-athletes.
Eventually, he and Point-du-Jour established contact, and they approached Director of Athletics Keiko Price in August 2022 with their proposal for an Emory Black Student Athlete Group (BSAG). Price had worked on a similar project after the death of George Floyd during her tenure at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and wholeheartedly supported Nnake and Point-du-Jour’s initiative.
“When they came to me, it was a no-brainer,” Price said. “It’s something that I really believe in and I’m passionate about. And so I said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’”
BSAG is the first of its kind at Emory, and both Nnake and Point-du-Jour were motivated to start it in part because they felt Emory’s Black student athletes lacked a strong peer support group.
“Sometimes as the only Black student-athlete on the team, it can feel kind of isolating at times, and it leads to people that end up quitting or just transferring to different schools,” Point-du-Jour said. “By having that community, there’s a common support that they might not feel that they have on a team.”
The foundation of BSAG’s mission is FACs: foster a community, advocate for one another and celebrate Black identity. For Nnake, BSAG offers an opportunity for Black student-athletes to “bridge the gap[s]” that he has noticed since his freshman year.
“A lot of times, as a Black student-athlete at a [predominantly white institution] like this, it’s tough to find our community, find ways that we can connect with one another,” Nnake said. “I just felt a need to start the organization, and just have that sense of community between the different athletic teams, because I feel like it could help us further ourselves and advocate for one another, just help us celebrate our identities together.”
Around 16% of all NCAA athletes are Black. That figure dips to 10% for athletes competing at the Division III level, and as of fall 2022, Emory reported that Black students composed just 8.5% of the undergraduate population. As the statistics suggest, the Black student-athlete community at Emory is small – out of the over 400 student-athletes at Emory, approximately 35 are in BSAG – yet Point-du-Jour said the nature of being a collegiate athlete prevented them from getting to know one another intimately.
“One thing about being an athlete in general, it’s kind of a ‘go to practice and go home’ sort of thing,” Point-du-Jour said. “We see each other as Black student-athletes but we never have the time to talk like, ‘What’s up, what’s your name?’ Prior to this, I didn’t know some of the guys on the basketball team’s majors.”
Price, who is one of 16 Black female athletic directors in Division III, recruited Tristan Reaves to guide Nnake and Point-du-Jour through the process of expanding BSAG’s reach. Reaves became the Coordinator of Student-Athlete Success Programs in the Eagle Edge program in July 2022 and has since taken on a mentorship role within BSAG.
“It’s completely student-athlete led,” Reaves said. “They take it where they want to go, and I just help them get where they’re going as efficiently as possible.”
BSAG has already held several events since the beginning of the fall 2022 semester, including a welcome banquet, a midterm de-stress game night and a blackout-themed night during the men’s and women’s basketball games against the University of Chicago on Jan. 27. Sophomore thrower Jalen Nixon said these BSAG events gave him the chance to relate to others who understand the unique experience of being a Black student-athlete at an academically rigorous PWI.
“It’s nice to have a dedicated space where you kind of have a chance to sit down, or almost decompress, but also hang out with other people who have the same experiences you do from a racial and athletic and academic standpoint,” Nixon said. “To just meet people who are in similar shoes as you, learn what they’re struggling from. [It’s] almost mentorship, in a type of way.”
Nnake and Point-du-Jour noted that Price and Reaves have helped create invaluable connections with the broader Emory and Atlanta communities. Recently, Deputy Executive Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Wilma Robinson (96C), an Emory women’s track and field alumna, visited the campus to speak at a BSAG general body meeting. Assistant Professor of History Carl Suddler did the same and is actively working on connecting BSAG to people within his network.
Price noted that such outreach also benefits them financially, as alumni have already donated to BSAG in the few short months since its inception.
“We’ve used this as an opportunity to work with Advancement and Alumni Engagement to reach out to alumni who are not aware of what we’re doing and want to support philanthropically,” Price said. “So we’ve been able to solicit interest and gifts from alumni, former athletes who want to contribute to the group. And that’s been really great to engage them and even have them come back and speak on career panels as well.”
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On Feb. 13, BSAG will host an intersectionality panel at the Harland Cinema in the Alumni Memorial University Center. According to Reaves, the speakers will be Emory student-athletes discussing the “unique experience of being a Black student-athlete at a PWI.” Nnake said that the event is especially apropos for Black History Month and hopes that the panel can be informative for people who do not share a similar lived experience.
“As Black student-athletes at Emory, obviously our experience is much different than other people’s,” Nnake said. “I feel like it can be powerful for people to realize how different our experience is, how different we can be perceived from others and then how powerful it can be to meet people that have different experiences at a PWI like this. It’d be great to give people insight into something that they’re foreign to, especially during a powerful month like this.”
Nnake and Point-du-Jour are also currently planning a BSAG service day in March. As far as the future of BSAG goes, Point-du-Jour hopes they can extend their influence as far as possible and continue to engage with more Black athletes, Emory alumni and professionals.
“It’s just to keep on expanding, keep building on the network that we have,” Point-du-Jour said. “We’ve been making connections grow with the greater Atlanta area. Even across the country, just people noticing our Instagram page, saying, ‘I support this.’”
Nnake said he is encouraged by noticing the growth in the number of Black student-athletes since he first arrived at Emory, and wants BSAG to become an organization that Black student-athletes know they can rely on the moment they set foot on campus.
“I want them to see it as a group that they will already be a part of,” Nnake said. “I just want it to be just a group that people can look forward to and just know that when they come here, they’ll already be a part of something bigger than themselves and something that can help them advance in whatever way they possibly see.”
Claire Fenton (she/her) (24C) is a Pittsburgh native majoring in quantitive sciences and linguistics. Outside of the Wheel, she is the treasurer of Emory Data Science Club and Girls Who Code. When she’s not training for half marathons, you can find her watching the Penguins dominate the Philadelphia Flyers and reading Agatha Christie novels.