by Keisha Bell
It is nice to be considered, but what do you do when you are overlooked? Such disregard may not be intentional omission of you, as a person. On the other hand, it may be residue from the historical exclusion of you, as a category.
Meet Yolett McPhee-McCuin, the first black coach at the University of Mississippi where she is the head coach of its women’s basketball program. McPhee-McCuin was a history-maker long before stepping foot on the campus at Ole Miss. She is the first Bahamian woman to sign a Division I letter of intent to play basketball, the first Bahamian woman to coach at a Division I program and she was the first black female head coach at Jacksonville University. Furthermore, she serves as the head coach for the Bahamian national team.
McPhee-McCuin was born on April 30, 1983. She played collegiate basketball at Miami-Dade Community College, then at the University of Rhode Island–where in 2004 she earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and administration. McPhee-McCuin also obtained a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Her road to Ole Miss included a number of assistant coach/recruiting coordinator positions along the way. As head coach at Jacksonville University, McPhee-McCuin took its losing program to three-straight 20-win seasons. Not afraid of a challenge, the Ole Miss position caught her eye.
“For me it was a unique [situation] because I didn’t think that Ole Miss would even consider [me],” said McPhee-McCuin during a discussion with four other coaches on The Players’ Tribune media outlet.
“If you know me I’m very much like –I run my own show. I create my own path. Like I believe that’s how God built me and so I called them and I said ‘Listen, I’ve been hearing that you guys have been having all these people and no one’s taking the job and I don’t understand how you guys are not looking at me when I am doing [amazing] stuff with the [limited] resources I have, could you only imagine what I would do with the resources you guys have at Ole Miss?’ … an hour later I got a text message and it said would you be available to talk to the AD (athletics director). When they called, I said, ‘What took you guys so long to call me?’ And that’s how we started the conversation.”
She got the job because she was courageous enough to follow her own game plan. She made the call.
McPhee-McCuin’s work has just begun. Now, she has to actually work in an environment that had never seen someone like her in such authority, a black person and more specifically a black woman.
“For me at Ole Miss, I don’t want to come in as the overly aggressive, angry black woman,” said McPhee-McCuin in the coaches’ discussion, “And so I’m learning now how to fight for what I need to fight for and then just, you know, not really speak of certain things because I can be looked upon as ‘different’ because they are not really used to it…but if I don’t speak on certain things, they’ll also take advantage of it and not make it a priority and so [it’s about finding] the balance of trying to not be too aggressive so that they can let me in, but still fighting for what I know and what I believe because…this is a unique situation I am in, I’m the first black coach.”
Aside from handling the responsibilities of the job itself, McPhee-McCuin understands that she also has a responsibility of helping to open doors for other strong women to get an opportunity, as well as, of cheering for the success of others like her–if for no other reason except that maybe one day those like her will get the initial call. That is the kind of leadership that real progress needs.
Sometimes places await your presence, but you will never find them if you are not confident enough to make the call. She made it, will you?
Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant. www.emergingfree.com