Thursday, March 4, 2021

Vicki Gray, left, and Derwin Gray, right, speak to a group of BYU student-athletes on Feb. 17 in the Smith Fieldhouse. The couple held 20 meetings over two days as part of Black History Month and BYU's efforts to "root out racism." (BYU Athletics)

Derwin and Vicki Gray tell BYU student-athletes to ‘be the change’ in efforts to ‘root out racism’

BYU Athletics alumni Derwin and Vicki Gray were invited to speak to BYU student-athletes during Black History Month on Feb. 16-17, sharing a message centered on “being the change you want to see,” in efforts to “root out racism.”

BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe and Senior Associate Athletic Director Liz Darger reached out to the Grays in January, and the couple accepted the invitation to return to their alma mater where they met and addressed current student-athletes.

Their unique experiences as minority and non-Latter-day Saint student-athletes at BYU serve the department’s goals of inspiring and creating a more inclusive and diverse athletic program.

Derwin played football at BYU from 1989-1992 and Vicki was a javelin thrower on the track and field team during the same period. The couple married in 1992 and now live in North Carolina. Derwin is the founding and lead pastor at the Transformation Church in Indian Lands, South Carolina.

The couple held 20 meetings over a two-day period at BYU, including two round-table dinners with minority students and the Student-Athlete Advisory Council.

They used the story of the Good Samaritan from the New Testament to illustrate how to look beyond what’s perceived as normal and love others, despite the differences people may have.

“The Samaritan was not supposed to be the hero of the story,” Derwin said. “The Jews and Samaritans had a 700-year ethnic feud, but yet the Samaritan showed incredible love to go and help the Jewish man who had been bloodied and beaten and robbed.”

The message, in the end, comes down to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” according to Derwin, who sported a BYU Football “Love One Another” hoodie during several of the talks he gave.

Derwin Gray addresses a group of student-athletes on Feb. 17 in the Smith Fieldhouse, while wearing a BYU Football “Love One Another” hoodie. Gray illustrated the message of loving your neighbor through the parable of the Good Samaritan. (BYU Athletics)

“There are things that Latter-day Saints will think are normative to the rest of the world, and it’s not,” Derwin said. “Love says, ‘how do I include, embrace and understand the perspectives of another.’ Love says, ‘I want to get to know you, I want to know what you value, I want to know where you come from.'”

He told the student-athletes to not be “color blind,” but “color blessed.”

“Those who say they want to be color blind have never had their color be a disadvantage for them,” Derwin said. “To be color blessed means I recognize the beautiful image of God in every human being, of every ethnicity, and that I can be blessed by their color, by their culture, by the person that they are.”

BYU men’s basketball head coach Mark Pope praised the couple and the power of these meetings in his weekly coaches show on BYUtv.

“To have him here in person with his wife was truly one of the most spectacular people that we’ve had address our athletic department and our team in a long time,” Pope said on the show. “He and his wife have such a magical way of taking ridiculously complicated, partisan, emotion-charged issues and bringing them straight back to the gospel where nothing is dumbed down, and you understand them more profoundly.”

Derwin said the message was received by BYU student-athletes in an “epic way,” above and beyond what they expected.

“The response was incredible,” Derwin said. “We found the student-athletes to be brilliant and mature. They want to move beyond just conversations to actions.”

The couple attended the BYU women’s basketball game against Gonzaga on Feb. 18 and noted that the team stood arm-in-arm during the national anthem, wearing shirts that said, “united against racism.”

“I’m hopeful for this Gen Z, they get inclusion, particularly student-athletes” Derwin said. “Athletes have led change for generations now.”

Vicki said that while it will always be a cultural challenge for minorities and non-LDS student-athletes to attend BYU, she believes the department has more of a structure in place now to help non-traditional athletes succeed at BYU than it did when she was in Provo. She highlighted the recent hiring of Whitney Johnson as associate athletic director for diversity and inclusion and said it was encouraging to spend time with her.

“They’re trying very hard to make sure student-athletes have the support they need,” Vicki said. “I see Tom (Holmoe) and Liz (Darger) and the athletic department trying to do whatever they can to embrace the student-athletes and help them feel supported.”

Derwin said the impression he got from the student-athletes, especially those of color, is that there is a “disconnect” between the inclusion they find on their teams versus what takes place on campus.

“In some ways, it’s gotten better (since I was at BYU) but in some ways, it’s actually gotten harder, because of social media and because there’s so much more awareness,” Derwin said of being a minority at BYU. “Athletes are learning that they have a voice.”

Derwin said he applauds the student-athletes at BYU for wanting to create an environment of loving their neighbor and believes they can be an example to the rest of the BYU campus and to the world of “what it looks like to love one another.”

Overall, the Grays said it was a powerful trip that exceeded their expectations, and Vicki said many student-athletes expressed their gratitude for the discussions.

“I think they felt like they had been heard,” Vicki said. “They felt like there was someone who could relate to what they were saying, the change they were trying to make. I think it just encouraged them to feel like somebody saw them.”

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