High School Cagers Get History Lesson at Du Bois Jam

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. -- Chances are the next Sue Bird or Stephen Curry was not playing ball in Monument Mountain Regional High School’s gymnasium on Saturday.
But that’s OK. Because a day of preseason scrimmages among nine Berkshire County high school teams was about more than just basketball and a more important role model.
“Why are we here talking about [W.E.B.] Du Bois at a basketball game?” asked Whitney Battle Baptiste, Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst. “Why not? You exercise your body when you play basketball, right? You learn plays. You learn how to, hopefully, dribble. You learn how to pass. You learn how to shoot? You learn those kinds of skills, right?
“In learning that, you also need to exercise and understand the importance of knowledge. … Athletes should always exercise your minds as well as your bodies.”
Baptiste was the keynote speaker at the inaugural W.E.B. Du Bois Jam, a collaboration of Monument Mountain and the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP.
Boys and girls teams from Monument Mountain, Wahconah and Lee joined the Mount Everett boys and Lenox and Taconic girls for a series of scrimmages on the last Saturday before the road to Curry Hicks Cage gets underway.
But before they battle for a trip to Amherst, a little bit of Amherst came to them as Baptiste, a UMass anthropology professor with a doctorate from the University of Texas, addressed all the teams between the morning’s boys’ scrimmages and the girls’ afternoon matchups.
Repeatedly, Baptiste reminded the boys and girls that Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP and one of the leading scholars of his day, called Great Barrington his home.
“Great Barrington shaped his ability to think that he could not just leave Great Barrington, but that he could become one of the most prolific scholars ever to come from this country,” Baptiste said. “He was top of his class at [Great Barrington’s Searles High School]. He graduated as valedictorian of his class.
“He was the first African-American PhD to graduate from Harvard University. But before that, he went to a small school, a historically-black college called Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.”
Baptiste told the youngsters to use an event like Saturday’s Du Bois Jam as a reason to learn more about Du Bois.
And learning will be the key to success.
“Never let anyone tell you that your athletics is going to get you anywhere,” Baptiste said. “Unless you make the NBA or the WNBA, what are you going to do? You’re going to use your mind. Your basketball skills could take you to college somewhere, but what are you going to do after that?
“I’m talking about Du Bois because Du Bois is somebody who wrote about everything. He wrote about access to health care. He wrote about everybody being equal. He wrote about environmental injustice. These are the kinds of things that Du Bois wrote about more than 100 years ago. And we can still use his words and his work to influence the way we see our world today.”
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