On Feb. 1, as Black History Month began, the first meeting of William & Mary’s Black Student-Athlete Alliance was held. A mission and preliminary course of action were among the topics discussed over pizza.

And more than one person wondered aloud: Why did no one do this before?

“And I agree,” said junior women’s basketball player Kayla Beckwith, the new group’s president. “So I made it a priority because many universities already have a Black Student-Athlete Alliance.

People sitting around tables smile for the camera
History happened with W&M’s first Black Student Alliance meeting on Feb. 1, 2023. (W&M Athletics photo)

“It was important that we got one started here, and I think everyone’s excited. We’re trying to make change on campus.”

Beckwith already has a busy schedule with classes (she’s a marketing major), basketball (she’s a key piece of the Tribe program as a center) and other organizations (including the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Make A Play Foundation). But the BSAA, she believes, was long overdue at William & Mary.

Of the 520 student-athletes on campus, 16% are African American. If football is removed from the equation — its 2022 roster was about 46% Black — maybe one in 10 Tribe athletes are African American.

“It’s bringing together the Black student-athletes on campus so we can have a safe space to talk about anything going on in the world or within our community,” Beckwith said. “And it gives us an opportunity to become better leaders.

“It’s also about getting more involved in the community around us. Hopefully, we’ll have some initiatives like going to local elementary schools and reading to kids similar to what football does.”

The group’s executive board is made up of vice president Alex Washington (football), secretary Makenzie Joiner (track), treasurer Quinn Osborne (football), and Lizzy Gregory (track) and Dani McTeer (women’s basketball), who will coordinate marketing and social media.

Kayla Beckwith goes for a layup in a basketball game
Junior Kayla Beckwith is the President of W&M’s first Black Student-Alliance. (W&M Athletics photo)

Jasmine Perkins, director of basketball operations with the women’s team, is providing been-there expertise as a staff representative. She created a BSAA chapter at Bryant University as a midfielder on the lacrosse team from 2016-19.

“I know it can make an impact because it gives them another outlet and another resource to share their experiences,” Perkins said. “It can make a huge impact not only with athletics but the Williamsburg community.”

Also assisting from the administrative side is Associate Athletics Director Jason Simms.

Approximately 15 student-athletes attended the first meeting. The organization hopes to increase its numbers as awareness grows. A second meeting took place mid-February.

“One thing we agreed on at the first meeting was to get more people there,” said Amaya Johnson, a senior on the women’s track team. “Just getting those numbers up truly matters.

WBB Director of Operations Jasmine Perkins provides W&M’s BSA with valuable mentoring. (W&M Athletics photo)

“The more people from the athletic community we can get to come, the bigger impact we’ll be able to have. And the more support we’ll be able to provide to each other. More people is more brains and more ideas.”

Hollis Mathis, a junior on the football team, believes the BSAA will provide an avenue for honest dialogue and understanding.

“It’ll be a safe space to talk out whatever troubles or grievances or good things about the school and our experience,” he said. “It’s a space to speak about these things and not feel we have to hold something back or speak in a certain way.

“We can rely on each other’s expertise in living the Black student-athlete experience and be able to confide in one another and not feel like we’re alone. Sometimes, you might feel like you’re going through one of these hardships on your own when in reality there’s a huge group of us really and willing to support one another.”

A person with a football runs down the field
Junior Hollis Mathis looks for W&M’s BSA to build a community of support. (W&M Athletics photo)

Earlier this month, the W&M athletics department announced it will sponsor up to three representatives to attend the Black Student-Athlete Summit in Los Angeles from May 21-24. Perkins will serve as the administrator and mentor for the event, which will be held on the University of Southern California’s campus.

This will be the fourth summit for Perkins, who has attended as a student-athlete, a graduate student and an administrator at Wake Forest.

“I’m really excited for the student-athletes to have this opportunity and for William & Mary to be represented for the first time,” she said. “It was almost like information overload but it was great information.

“I felt overwhelmed but in such a positive way. There will be over a hundred schools there, and recently they added a component of large career fair as well.”