NASHVILLE — In early August, a video of a group of female gymnasts stretching, tumbling into a foam pit, and smiling for a group selfie went viral. The video went viral and was viewed nearly 1 million times on TikTok. It was also picked up by many news outlets.
The athletes were clearly talented — their aerials and back layouts on balance beam stuck without even a glimpse of a wobble. The video also highlights something else about the young women: They compete at Fisk University, Nashville, as the first intercollegiate gymnastics team from a historically Black college.
“They’ve never seen anything like this before, and people of color are kind of dominating right now in the gymnastics world, in the elite world,” Aliyah Reed Hammon, a Milwaukee freshman gymnast, said so. “They’re like, ‘Oh they’re going to be a really good team. They’re just going to bring it.’”
Gymnastics is a sport that can be found in the United States. is Considered a predominantly white sport especially among college teamsEven though there have been many Black women who have achieved the highest levels of success in gymnastics, such as Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Jordan Chiles, this is not true. Black girls have been successful in gymnastics for decades, despite its demanding nature and a culture that includes mental and physical abuse. with relatively low participation rates nationwide For girls and women of color
Dianne Durham, a Black woman, won the U.S.A. in 1983. Gymnastics senior national championship and beat Mary Lou Retton to take the all-around title at the McDonald’s International Gymnastics Los Angeles, Los Angeles. The She was injured and she was not able to make the Olympic team next year. Durham, 52 years old, passed away last year.
“I don’t love hypotheticals, but I do think it’s important to say: Our very understanding of the face of gymnastics could have been a Black girl in ’84,” Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor of African American Studies at Penn State, said that her podcast was based on Amira Rose Davis. “American Prodigies” This article explores the experience of Black girls and women in Gymnastics. “If we miss that, we miss the mechanisms of power that actively marginalized Black girls.”
Sports are a long-standing part of the fabric H.B.C.U.Many of these schools were founded with land grants to help non-white students. These schools did not have gymnastics programs.
That’s why Derrin Moore, founder of Brown Girls Do Gymnastics, chose to make the nonprofit’s H.B.C.U. The nonprofit’s H.B.C.U. mission is a key part of it. Moore remembers being a young gymnast in the 1980s and seeing the disgust on her white teammates’ faces when oils from her hair would leave the vinyl mats slick. She recalls being criticized by coaches for her body and her dance style during floor routines. So she enlisted the help of another girl to show her how it was done. “right way.”
“There were just these things that people didn’t recognize as an issue for all these Black girls,” Moore said. “And nobody said anything about it because we’re in the sport of gymnastics, so Black people don’t really have a say.”
Founded in 2015, the organization’s work includes camps and conferences for gymnasts and their families to help them navigate the sport, as well as lobbying efforts to increase the number of Black judges in competitions. Its primary concern is the dearth of gymnastics programs. H.B.C.U.s.
Frank Sims was the chairman of Fisk’s board of trustees in 2021. He heard that his great-niece had to go to a predominantly white college if she wants to continue her career as a gymnast. He called Moore within days to inquire about an alternative. He quickly arranged for Moore’s visit to the board.
Many questions were raised: How many Black women are involved in gymnastics? What would the time it take to create a team? Are athletes at other schools willing to transfer? Moore answered them well enough that a call with Vann Newkirk Sr., Fisk’s president at the time, came next.
On February 11, Black History Month, Brown Girls Do Gymnastics was sharing Fisk’s announcement about the creation of its team. “This women’s gymnastics program will embody all the qualities that define the Fisk experience: excellence, determination and a commitment to a better tomorrow,” Newkirk stated.
Aliyah Reed Hammon competed at level 10, the highest level in the U.S.A. Gymnastics Junior Olympics program during her senior year of high school. She was planning to run track in college — until she saw the Fisk announcement and immediately applied.
“It really interested me because I like the idea of being surrounded by people that look like me,” She spoke.
Leeiah Davis, a freshman hailing from Grayson, Ga., which is about halfway between Athens and Atlanta, expressed a similar sentiment. She is passionate about Black culture, history, and tradition and would love to attend an H.B.C.U. “I would tell my mom, ‘It’d be so dope if we had a gymnastics team just full of Black girls,’” Davis said. “That would shock the world. Literally.”
The gymnastics world was stunned when Morgan Price, five-star recruit, decommitted from Arkansas, a top-20 Division I coaching program, to join Fisk.
“I have always wanted to be an H.B.C.U. gymnast, but I just never had the opportunity because there wasn’t an H.B.C.U. with the gymnastics team,” She told Sports Illustrated.
As when Travis Hunter, cornerback at Florida State, switched from Deon Sanders’s Jackson State to Florida State. 1 recruit in his class, switched from Florida State to Deion Sanders’s Jackson State, Price’s turnabout was notable given that Fisk, like other H.B.C.U.s, has drastically fewer resources that other predominantly white universities.
In 2020, Fisk was finally released from probation by the body that grants the university’s accreditation. Initial concern was rooted in Fisk’s finances, which were strained due to flagging enrollments. The school’s finances and enrollment numbers appear to be on the upswing, but years of struggles and outdated infrastructure will likely take a while to overcome.
While the administration is trying to raise $2million to build a new gym in the area, the team is working to make it happen. is Splitting practices among two nearby club gyms.
For the gymnastics team, however, it doesn’t matter. They know they’re working hard and making history. And they trust that Corrinne Tarver, their coach, who was also named Fisk’s new athletic director in July, will do the rest. “She was like, you have to trust the process,” Davis said.
If you have is a person ideally suited to lead this first-of-its kind program — really, to lead the charge of making gymnastics more welcoming to women of all backgrounds — it is Tarver. Tarver was the first Black woman to win the all-around at N.C.A.A. while attending Georgia. championships. She has also coached at the club and collegiate levels — including at the University of Pennsylvania — and has worked in college athletic administration for a decade.
Tarver, however, has a lot of work ahead of her. She got permission to hire a full-time athletics trainer, the school’s first, to travel with the gymnastics team. She is The training room will be outfitted and brought up to N.C.A.A. standards. standards — a necessity as she also applies to move the athletic department from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to N.C.A.A. Division II. And in addition to the $2 million she’s raising for the construction of a new gym, Tarver is raising funds for the gymnastics program’s general operating costs.
“We’re going to Michigan, and we’re going to Georgia; we’re going to go against these big DI programs,” Tarver stated. “We could have kept it smaller, but honestly, with this kind of exposure, we’re going to put ourselves out there.”
Tarver’s efforts aren’t just about the 16 women currently on Fisk’s gymnastics team, or even the other Fisk athletes who will benefit. These televised meets against larger school are about giving young Black and brown gymnasts the opportunity to see a team made up of women just like them competing at elite level. H.B.C.U.With the right support, gymnastics programs are possible to be viable and long-lasting.
“I’m not really selling the program,” Tarver spoke to her team. “I’m selling the dream.”