Rugby Offering Opportunities to Succeed: ROOTS
By Derek Lipscomb
Roots Rugby was started nearly a year ago in November 2018 with the goal of getting players of the African diaspora a chance to play rugby at high levels. Since November, the men’s Roots team has played in New York City, Las Vegas, and South Carolina – winning each tournament and will be playing in London in late August. The women’s team played their first summer 7s season, led by Tiffany Faee, who also coached for Rugby United in their inaugural season.
Roots doubles as an acronym created by Kimo Davis and stands for ‘Rugby Offering Opportunities To Succeed’. Within that acronym the mission statement was clear – to unite the players of African descent and give them a platform to succeed within a space where they could showcase their natural talent. Often times when a player of color joins a team, they can be typecast before they are able to develop or even highlight their strengths. In some ways, their career has already been plotted for them based on where others before them had played.
Roots also integrates a historical aspect, with concern to the African Diaspora, to player development in the hopes that it helps with their agency as well as brings to light many commonalities of their paths with other teammates. It also helps to serve their community at large and establish a connection. Rugby is its own lifestyle but that lifestyle still has a dominant culture. When there are slight discrepancies between the individual and the dominant culture, there may be conflict when interacting with others who fit the dominant culture. It can be from getting asked to be the automatic rap DJ on a road trip, to having your playing career in jeopardy if you do not play wing well enough.
Understanding the larger picture for a player of color and giving them a chance to talk with other players who share that sentiment is a great way to take their learnings back to their hometown teammates and raise awareness of what is being said. Roots is about learning how to advocate for oneself, while learning more about our own history as a person from the African diaspora. During Black History Month, Roots athletes explored Black History that remains untold or largely uncovered. This pursuit of knowledge not only helps the Roots community but promotes a value in education while achieving excellence on the rugby pitch.
Roots and my teaching work intersect around inclusivity and socio-emotional learning. It is easy to conform to dominant culture one is taught about on a team or in a school without exploring other cultures that may be prevalent as well. Taking what I have been teaching and applying it to the community has been a goal of mine for some time. The end goal of Roots is to be able to empower young black students in New York City communities to learn more about themselves and one another. Rugby can always be a great vehicle for that.
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