Numerous University of Mississippi organizations and campus ministries gathered in the Student Union Ballroom to acknowledge racism and consider it through a lens of faith at an event called “Prevail.”
Coolidge Ball, the first African-American athlete at the University of Mississippi, led the gathering alongside Jason Cook, former Ole Miss athlete and current pastor. Keith Carter, the Ole Miss Athletic Foundation president and former All-American athlete, also spoke, accompanied by the Grammy-nominated University of Mississippi Gospel Choir.
While the event has been planned for weeks, it falls just days after pro-Confederate groups marched through the city of Oxford and onto campus in order to advocate for the Confederate statue that stands in the Circle.
“In light of all the events that happened, not just this weekend but the past two weeks, it’s extremely important to have an event like this in the name of unity,” Gospel Choir President Jarrius Adams said.
The 11 campus groups that organized “Prevail” said their intention was to help those in attendance understand racism through religion.
“We cannot have a conversation of racial understanding without a conversation about the last 400 years,” Cook said.
Cook took the chance to speak about the kneeling of eight Ole Miss men’s basketball players during the national anthem at Saturday’s game against Georgia. The protest took place at the same time that pro-Confederates protested on campus.
“People view kneeling as a hostile event rather than an expression of the last 400 years,” Cook said.
“Persevere through the microaggression. Persevere through when we feel attacked. Persevere through the white guilt. You can’t quit.”
Cook emphasized the importance of communication and loving your neighbor rather than showing hate to your enemies.
“Yes, there are some of us that need to march, but there are a lot more of us that need to pray,” Cook said.
Ball said he was just 18 years old, shaky with nerves and didn’t know what to expect after signing with the university in 1970 to become the first African-American athlete at Ole Miss, but he knew it was where he needed to be.
“The coach that recruited me here said, ‘If anybody messes with you, I will whip their … ,” Ball said, gesturing to the last word without verbalizing it.
Ball mentioned segregation had been prominent only a year before his signing, so he hadn’t had much contact with other races in his lifetime.
“I never talked to a white before,” Ball said. “They came up to me thinking I’d be talking basketball. They said they were surprised I wasn’t talking basketball because all they heard was I was a basketball player.”
Ball said he wanted to be seen for more than his basketball statistics. He wanted to make an impact on the program and at the university.
“We’ve come a long ways, but we got a long way to go,” Ball said. “I’m so happy to see a great mixed crowd here tonight. You wouldn’t be here if you want to be, you chose to be here tonight.”
A plaque now hangs outside The Pavilion to recognize Ball for his outstanding athletic performance at the University of Mississippi, along with the impact he made on the campus.