Volleyball alumnus Smith jumps from GBS to HBCU

Dani Carr, co-features editor

From late actor Chadwick Boseman giving Black children the superhero they needed in the Black Panther, to Kamala Harris, the first African American, female and Asian American Vice President, Howard University has a reputation for not only nationally ranking programs, but trail-blazing alumni.

For volleyball player Kendall Smith, a former South athlete, she said it would be an honor to join their ranks, and this year she did, as she embarked on her first year at Howard University.

After beginning volleyball in sixth grade, Smith was recruited by Howard University for volleyball the summer after her sophomore year. She explained that one of the reasons she committed to Howard was its status  as one of 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), a group of schools established before 1964 to primarily serve African Americans, according to www2.ed.gov.

“Going through high school [in] a predominately white school, I  wanted an experience where I was the majority,” Smith said. “Even though Howard is an HBCU, our school is extremely diverse and I enjoy being somewhere where I was a little more accepted and felt more at home.”

Smith’s father, John Smith, said that while Glenview is relatively ethnically diverse, it is not racially diverse enough to provide Kendall with a valuable perspective of African American culture. John said that this is vastly different in Washington D.C. at Howard. Despite Kendall’s parents both attending predominantly white higher learning institutions, Kendall explained that they were still supportive of her decision to go to Howard.   

“It provides her the opportunity to be in an environment that focuses on education [as well as] an environment that understands and appreciates her heritage as an African American young woman, student and adult,” John explained.

Howard’s reputation as an HBCU played a role in her choice to attend the university and she emphasized the amazing opportunity it has been.

“It’s a lot different [than Glenview] and I really do enjoy being with people who understand my culture a little bit more and my jokes and references,” Kendall said.

One of the reasons she has valued her current life so greatly is because of its differences from in Glenview. While she pointed out how grateful she is for Glenbrook South’s volleyball program and her time on it, she noted the microaggressions she faced in the Glenbrook community.

“[The] little microaggressions that you had to go through every day were difficult for me, instead of [outright] outbursts of racism,” Kendall said. “Not having to deal with those [microaggressions] when you get it every single day from kindergarten to high school, after 12 years, it’s like a breath of fresh air.”

Ciara Jones, Howard University’s assistant volleyball coach, explained the beauty of seeing similarities with your peers. For Black students, attending Howard University it is the first time for many attending  a predominantly Black community.

“It makes you a lot more comfortable to be yourself, to wear your hair out and not feel like I [am] going to be judged for wearing my natural curly hair that I don’t even know that I love just yet,” Jones said. “You feel a lot more confident in yourself and that’s what you see at Howard, a lot of confident Black kids, and I just love it.”

Kendall noted that a shared identity among teammates allows them to connect. Despite this year being her first on the team, she explained that it was not long before everyone felt like family.

“The team members are all sisters,” Jones said. “Of course it is competitive [because] everyone wants to play [and] you’re competing for a spot, but [because of] the way everyone lifts each other up it really [feels like] a family.”

With many fresh faces filling the gaps that upperclassmen left behind, the team is in a learning stage, according to Jones. She explained that in order to foster growth, the team’s focus is on ball control, stressing the importance of keeping the ball in play during the midst of competitive rallies.

“A big thing is making sure that we do the little things right,” Jones explained. “We’re very consistent in making sure that the girls are getting a lot of contacts [and] making sure that we can take care of the ball on our side of the net before even worrying about sending it back over.”

Jones emphasized the difference between coaching and teaching, explaining that while you can coach in games, it is not possible to teach. Because of this, she said the coaches place their focus during practices on teaching the team how to play successfully during matches.

“[The coaches are always] making sure that [in practices] we’re teaching, instead of coaching,” Jones said.

Other than the supportive atmosphere, another irreplaceable aspect of Howard is the team’s focus on academics, Kendall said. As a part of the Howard University Business School and finance program and retaining a 3.9 GPA  all in her first year at college, Kendall stressed the importance of schooling in her life.

“I know it sounds cheesy, but the coaches were really there to support [me],” Kendall said. “They also put a big emphasis on academics here as well because they know that these four years aren’t your last years of life and they want to s set [us] up for [our future].”

Jones explained the coaches’ reasoning behind the weight on academics. She focuses on the importance of education specifically towards women of color, who often face lower wages.

“Education is so important to propel you into where you want to go,” Jones explained. “As society continues to change, by the time Kendall graduates [we will] need a lot more African American women inside of companies, and not just for face, but because they deserve it.”

John exclaimed how proud he was of Kendall’s achievements; with recognition on the Dean’s List of the Business School and the finance program and three internship opportunities as a freshman, he shined a light on how Kendall’s hard work has brought her to success.

In addition, John explained that he is always giving Kendall life lessons to prepare her for her future. One of the most valuable lessons was one he learned from his own father, John reminisced.

“Do right by people and be a good citizen,” John said. “It’s as simple as that. Be committed to yourself, and be committed to others and help somebody else along the way.”

John emphasized his role as a parent to encourage Kendall to pursue her passions not only in volleyball, but to get involved with a variety of other activities.

“I think the best support that we provide is the moral support,” John said. “Being there for her, encouraging her as a child to participate in things and enabling her to be able to do so. It was important for us to have her engaged in more than one sport because we believed it really helped build character [and] learn how to work with a team.”

As Kendall reflected on her journey to Howard University, she repeated how meaningful the experience has been thus far for her. While she began playing volleyball without much self-confidence, she reiterated that her coaches and teammates from both Glenview and college have led her to become more self-assured in her capabilities.

“It’s an experience that I’m grateful for and I’m so glad I chose this university,” Kendall said.