RISE brought teammates, opponents together

Coach Ramona Cox and her Cass Technical High School volleyball team participated in the RISE Leadership Program during the fall 2016 season.

July 31, 2017

By Bryan Matecun

DETROIT – Coach Ramona Cox said the RISE Leadership Program helped her players have more positive interactions with each other and even with opponents.

Cox, varsity volleyball coach for Cass Technical High School, took her 15 players through the program during the fall 2016 season. She decided to participate in the program because of the significant role race plays in her players’ lives.

“With some of the existing racial issues in society, I thought the RISE program would be important,” Cox said. “In volleyball, there aren’t a lot of African-American girls, so they have to interact with diverse individuals when they play.”

Cox’s team consists entirely of African-American players – something she said is rare in volleyball. She said this played a significant role in their discussions about diversity, especially during the “identity circles” activity. In this activity, the student-athletes were asked to write down words that represent their identity. Then, they shared these identity descriptors during a group discussion and chose one descriptor that best defines them. The goal was to encourage self-reflection and highlight the difference between values and demographic labels.

“The initial conversation about diversity was eye-opening for them,” Cox said. “They’re all African-American, so they don’t usually think about the diversity among themselves. They couldn’t think of many identity descriptors at first, but it was easier after they helped each other.”

In addition to lessons about diversity, the program covered topics such as implicit bias and social media.

“The activity on implicit bias impressed me the most,” she said. “They learned to empathize with others during that activity. It was our most engaging conversation.”

Cox said the lessons about social media were also important because of their relevance to high school students.

“The kids are on social media a lot, and I don’t think they always think about what they put on there,” Cox said. “Actually going through examples of offensive and inappropriate posts demonstrated how important it is to think before posting. Once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back.”

Cox said the interactive activities throughout the 10-week process improved team chemistry.

“The conversations helped us on the court and when we do things outside of volleyball. We were already having some of those conversations, but the program brought us even closer together.”

The biggest on-court difference she saw was the improved trust between her players.

“Interacting off the court led to more trust,” Cox said. “You have to have trust in order to be comfortable enough to share and have conversations about sensitive topics. You can see the difference on the court.”

In turn, the players have been able to communicate more openly with their teammates and even with opponents. “The RISE program has helped them be more comfortable around their opponents and engage better with them off the court,” she said. “A lot of times the teams we play are pretty diverse, and you have to be able to interact with them.”

This was illustrated when the Cass Tech players got to meet some volleyball players from Saline High School during a playoff football game between the two schools. As part of halftime during the game, students from both schools linked arms and walked onto the field in a display of unity.

“They were able to mingle before and during the game,” Cox said. “They met other players, and some of our players realized they’d be playing on the same AAU (Amateur Athletic Union travel) team with some of the Saline players. I definitely saw a connection there.”

These interactions are what lead to positive social progress, Cox said.

“I think change in our society is going to start with our kids. They have to go out in the world armed with knowledge and the ability to communicate positively with people not like them, and RISE gives them the tools.”

Bryan Matecun is a summer 2017 intern for communications and marketing in RISE’s Midwest office in Detroit.