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Black History Month - Nwokedi

Penn women's basketball senior Michelle Nwokedi was one of two Quakers to finish with a double-double in the team's 64-52 win over Yale.

Credit: Chase Sutton

The great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “we are not makers of history, we are made by history.” To Penn’s black student-athletes, this is a well-respected premise from a well-admired leader. 

For Penn women’s basketball senior Michelle Nwokedi, Black History Month provides a chance to pay tribute to the opportunities created by the work of those who came before her.

“I always just think of Martin Luther King, and all that he’s done for us; years ago, I wouldn’t be at Penn,” the 2017 Ivy League Player of the Year commented. “There’s just a lot of significance behind that, and it helps me humble myself, to be able to attend a university like Penn.”

Years ago, so many things wouldn’t have been possible for people of color.

As another February and another Black History Month come to a close, it is important to take time to reflect on the history and triumphs of black culture across the world. While students often pay homage to the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the March on Washington, it is also a chance to recognize the less recognizable role models.  

Wrestling senior May Bethea has seen some of those role models on Penn’s campus. He recalls how the influence of his older brother Aaron, who also wrestled for the Quakers and graduated in 2005, helped him beyond just sports; the elder Bethea introduced the current senior to the campus’ community before he even started classes.

Credit: Emily Xu

“My brother lived in DuBois his sophomore year; I was a senior in high school and I would come visit him a lot,” the Trenton Central graduate said. “We would go to some events at DuBois, so I was introduced to the black community before I even got to Penn.”

Bethea also attended the Africana program for pre-freshmen at Penn, which further aided his transition to campus. The program provided him and the other Africana alums with a support system and invaluable ties to inspiring black faculty on campus.

For Bethea, his wrestling influences go beyond being inspired by his brothers. He cites Jordan Burroughs, 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the men’s freestyle 74 kg, as one of his idols. Bethea followed Burroughs, also a New Jersey native, throughout his NCAA career at Nebraska, eventually getting a chance to watch him win his second national title in Philadelphia.

As for Nwokedi, like many great athletes, her illustrious career could only have been inspired by another incredible talent: LeBron James.

“All that [LeBron] does isn’t just basketball related. He’s stood up for social issues, as well,” the senior forward stated. “Before getting to this part of my life, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated him as much, I would have just saw him as a basketball player. But now, I see him as someone who I look up to on the court and off the court.”

On the court and off the court. Carrying this important concept forward, Nwokedi and Bethea both aspire to positively impact others beyond their respective sports. 

While it is important to recognize black history and sacrifice, both seniors acknowledge that, primarily, Black History month is a celebration. That also means a celebration of family, as both athletes praised their respective families for being strong support systems. It also means appreciating the figures in local communities as well. Black History Month exemplifies that inspiration can be drawn from everyone.

Because each and everyone of us is made by history.