From left: Diversity and inclusion coordinator Lawrence Chatters, plus current Husker Tierra Williams (track and field) and former letterwinners Jay Foreman (football) and John Hastings (track and field).
Photo by Stephanie Carpenter/Nebraska Communications

Celebrating Black History: Courageous Conversations

By NU Athletic Communications

By Randy York, The N-Sider

In this age, courageous conversations are a priority for Nebraska's LIfe Skills Department. They are fundamentally strategic, especially when Nebraska Athletics strives to be on the cutting edge of diversity and inclusion. To help the Huskers celebrate Black History Month, Monday night was the culmination of old school and new school conversations joined together in vulnerability. 

“You had track and field All-American Tierra Williams, who currently leads the Big Ten, share a very touching story about her upbringing,” said Lawrence Chatters Jr., Nebraska Athletics' diversity and inclusion coordinator.

“Tierra captivated the audience by talking about her struggles to overcome being illiterate at a young age and getting to a point now in her career where she not only excels athletically but tremendously excels academically as well,” Chatters said.

Foreman Had Four Letters, Played on Three National Championship Teams

Jay Foreman, a four-year Nebraska football letterwinner who played on three Husker national championship teams, talked about losing his grandfather, which was the key turning point in his life where he faced adversity and really struggled for the first time.

John Hastings, an NU track and field letterwinner who now works as an associate principal at Lincoln (Neb.) Southwest High School, was equally impactful as a keynote speaker. “John talked about his journey to the United States from Canada and getting on campus,” Chatters said. “He was forced to get out of his shell, so he could become more involved with his teammates.”

Following the keynote speakers on Memorial Stadium's third floor were two former Husker football players who stood up and gave exhilarating accounts of their time at Nebraska and how they experienced campus life in the 1960s and ‘70s.

John Hastings (above)

Love, Bonness Helped Everyone in Room Understand the Essence of Team

Chatters said Preston Love Jr. (last photo below far right) and Rik Bonness (last photo below far left) “helped everyone in the room better understand the significance of what team really means and the overall context about learning other cultures.”

Love opened eyes with his first-hand account of his 1965 Orange Bowl situation with head coach Bob Devaney, who moved not only his football players who were African American but the entire team, the cheer squad and the administrators to a different hotel.

“At that point in time, they didn't want African American football players to stay in the hotel,” Chatters said. “That story in and of itself to me was the crescendo of the event.”

Why?

“Because quite a few people still do these things and still harken for stories from the past and try to connect to the present for that,” Chatters said. “People have experienced things like Preston Love has experienced. He's able to say in jest now but imagine the weight on the shoulders of eight men who just want to play for their team and finding out that everybody is moving hotels because of them. That story was amazing.”

First-Team All-American, Academic All-American Embraces Diversity

Bonness “painted a beautiful picture of his own about what he cherished most about his time at Nebraska,” Chatters said. “He talked about the diversity of his team and how he has not been around such diversity since he left the university. He was proud of what that has done for him in his life and he is better for it.

“Every story of every speaker was amazing,” Chatters said. “They really put themselves in a position of humility and shared their stories to give those student-athletes and the people from campus who came to see what's behind the curtain. Not many people do that and that's why here in Nebraska Athletics, we strive to facilitate these courageous conversations and everybody is better for them.”

Jay Foreman (above)

Life Skills Leader: Black History Month Strategies for Success a High Priority

Keith Zimmer has spent 30 years as Nebraska Athletics' senior director of Life Skills. He said the Black History Month Strategies for Success panel is a priority for all 600-plus current student-athletes. 

"It helps them appreciate and understand the rich history that we have," Zimmer said. "There is also a tremendous source of pride for our letter winner alumns like Preston and Rik, who heard about the event and wanted to be there because both felt like it was going to be special. And it was special because both felt like it was going to be special. Both added value for the entire evening."

With Nebraska diversity representing so many states and countries, we prepare people like very few others," Zimmer said. "Everyone was so impressed with Tierra. She's an undergraduate but has the composure and insights of a veteran. She's so genuine and has overcome so much. It's inspiring to see someone reach the highest level. Hearing her story would encourage anyone because it's so uplifting."

Preston Love: Nebraska Celebrates Historical Events and Building Blocks

Love agrees. "Black history month is multi-faceted," he said. "We celebrate historical perspectives. We celebrate those who contributed to the history, and we celebrate the historical events and people who never make the news but are so important to the building blocks of our history."

"We need to celebrate the contributions that our student-athletes are making daily to ensure that others are aware of thier part in the overall history and culture of NU," Love said. "They're making history right now and their awarenesss should inspire others to continue the traditions that enhance our history. The student-athletes who came together last night were and can continue to be a tremendous step forward to the future history of our instituion."

Chatters admits he was almost in tears hearing Tierra's story. "It was that moving to me," he said. "She said 'I misbehaved because I couldn't read when I was 10 years old.' Who is vulnerable enough to say that in front of their peers? That's why she would throw books across the room. She's an All-American, and that is courage. If all of us were willing to fix our demons like she did, we'd all be so much further along. They would understand that this is not who I have to be and I can move forward."

Foreman was equally emotional about his grandpa. "That was the biggest thing that happened in his life to date," Chatters said. "His grandpa was like his father. He was someone he could look up to."

Tierra Williams (above)

Golf Student-Athlete Judd Related to Devastating Loss of Her Grandfather

Nebraska women's golf coach Robin Krapfl was impressed with all three keynote speakers. “You just never know what someone has gone through in their life until you hear them talk about it,” she said. “We all think we've had some stumbles and then you hear things other people have gone through. It was a very uplifting program and on a personal point, one of our own student-athletes, Audrey Judd, just lost her grandfather last Saturday.

Not surprisingly, “Jay Foreman's talk really hit home with Audry,” Krapfl said, “because her grandfather was the one who influenced her to play golf. Hearing Jay's thoughts on losing his own grandfather was really impactful for her. She went up to him afterwards and found someone who could really share what she was experiencing. It was amazing how close to home it was. She was having such a hard time dealing with the loss of her grandfather, and hearing how Jay made some mistakes after losing his grandfather was definitely something that was meaningful and helpful for her to hear.”

Nebraska distance coach David Harris thought it was “totally awesome the way Tierra has matured as a person, a student and an athlete,” he said. “To know her background and to hear her verbalize what she's overcome was so inspiring. I hope athletes there took away what she shared. Tierra has overcome some real odds in her life.

Williams Glad She Shared Things that Connected with People's Struggles

Williams admitted Tuesday that she didn't know what level of exposure to share. “I decided I might as well be honest because you never know who's life you might help change,” she said. “A kid came up to me afterwards and started talking to me about it. He said ‘wow'. I was so happy I shared the things I did because I was able to connect with people I would never have known had a similar experience.”

Williams had never seen a white person until she was 12 years old. She moved with her family to Auburn, Neb., after they lost everything in Hurricane Catrina in New Orleans. 

"Nebraska was the perfect place for me to land,” she said. “I never would have imagined something like this. But right now, I can't see my life going any other way than what it's been. Nebraska's constant emphasis on academics keeps me on top of my game to be whatever I want to be. I want to excel academically and athletically, and I'm proud to say that both are high priorities every day.”

Send a comment to ryork@huskers.com (Please include city, state)

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