|Rachel Sottile, Executive Director of YES Institute facilitates dialogue.|
Reading an article in The Miami Herald about Shawnice “Pepper” Wilson, a powerful center for the University of Miami’s women’s basketball team, Executive Director Rachel Sottile was inspired to write her a letter. Moved by her story of growing up in a series of foster homes, Rachel invited Pepper to visit YES Institute and explore the possibility of becoming a volunteer speaker.
During her visit to YES Institute, Pepper learned that the first step to making a difference is communication. She registered for the next Communication Solutions™ and brought her teammate Maria “Moe” Brown. Moe later reflected, “I did not know how powerful and effective this course would be. Not only did I learn new communication skills, I learned life skills that will make my relationships with others even more peaceful and fulfilling.”
Moe contacted Rachel after the course with an idea to bring the whole team to YES Institute as a community project. Her idea led to an opportunity for the UM Women’s Basketball team to visit and participate in a community dialogue with foster care youth, parents, and mental health professionals. Both Moe and Pepper shared about how bullying, gender and orientation have touched their lives in some way.
“I learned that society’s expectations of what a man and woman should be pressures all of us to hide who we really are and how we feel about ourselves. I just want to feel free to express my true self in this world and have it be okay.” - Foster Care Youth
A participant asked the team, “When you were playing basketball in high school, did you talk about gender and orientation among your team?” Nearly every member on the team emphatically nodded their heads. One player said that her coach had very strong beliefs that homosexuality was wrong. Because her coach had a huge impact on her life and served as a kind of mentor, she adopted those beliefs for herself.
|University of Miami Women's Basketball Team with Rachel Sottile.|
“In high school if any of us had been out as gay, we all knew it would hurt how much time we would have on the court. We all wanted to play no matter what, so no one would take that chance. It just wasn’t something we could talk about.”
- UM Women’s Basketball player
After the dialogue, Pepper shared, “Speaking in front of my teammates was very challenging because as close as I am to all of them, they do not know about my past. After I was done speaking, I know they have a better understanding of who I am in the world, and why YES Institute is so important to me.”
A staff member from the Institute for Children and Family Health said, “The community is changing one person at a time. It’s inspiring to meet Pepper and Moe and hear their stories because I know these two will make a lasting difference.”