My name is Kristen Renee Ingram and as a high-achieving Black woman with multiple degrees, a successful sports executive career, and an influential business owner. I am Black excellence personified. It is from this perspective and these experiences that led me to share with you a story about The Rigged Game of Black Excellence. As it stands, there are two ways to play: 1) play their game knowing that you will absolutely never win big, but you’ll be competitive and might not lose big, or 2) be like Jesus and refuse to play.
“Black excellence is a term coined during the Civil Rights Movement, originally served to amplify shunned Black communities during the segregationist Jim Crow Era in the US, and evolved into shorthand for Black achievements in a society filled with racial disparities.” The first HBCU acceptance letter arrives. Black excellence. An 18-year-old plan manifested. Black Excellence. Celebrating achievements against the backdrop of a race-based society structured to hinder our progression. Black excellence. “However, Black Excellence often focuses on very conventional notions of success — the graduate, the medic, the lawyer — that can overlook existing systemic gaps, such as employment rates, access and opportunity. In this way, it can often be riddled with a sense of ‘double consciousness’, defined by W.E.B. DuBois as “always looking at oneself through the eyes of others.” Education will not afford you the opportunity to win, as we’ve been conditioned to believe. As Patrick Reyes’ concludes, education equips the mind of people of color to know two things: “One, we can play this game. We can operate in both spaces and have the skills to play the game – maybe not win, but at least compete. Two, the game is rigged.” Whether it is sports, education, work, or in society, the game is actively wired to support a specific group of people – and Black folks no matter how excellent are not a part of that group. The game was developed and distributed by European colonizers which is why “colonial thinking undergirds our society and threatens our call to life.”
“On the cross, Jesus demonstrated that God does not beat Rome at Rome’s game. God refuses to participate in a broken system. God chooses not to play their rigged game. We know Jesus was crucified, but what we often miss is that crucifixion was not just execution. Crucifixion was designed to be a public spectacle. It started with a literal parade, where Roman troops in full armor would parade the victim of crucifixion down the main road of town, so everyone could come see and revel in his humiliation. And then they were crucified in a public place, left hanging sometimes for days. So everyone could see. The whole thing was a message. Not to the person dying, but to everyone else. Look who your king is. Look what happens if you don’t do things our way – Caesar’s way or else.” God’s intentional, persistent invitation to a life worth living (or a game worth playing) is the one of love. “Love is the only action that Jesus demands of his people. Don’t take this lightly; the kind of love that Jesus demands is an all-encompassing, absolute loyalty to God the Father. This kind of love only comes when your heart is transformed – meaning you can’t create this kind of love on your own; you’re going to need divine help.” God is present in our world and serves as a proverbial cheat code in our lives, a living hack for His game.
Jesus says, “blessed are those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven both now and forever.” “Joyful, nourished by God’s goodness are those who hunger and thirst for those who actively seek right standing with God, for they will be completely satisfied.” “Comforted by inner peace and God’s love are those who are persecuted for doing that which is morally right, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven both now and forever.”
Even immersed in Black excellence at an HBCU, winning will be an illusion. You are the next greatest generation of Black excellence and if you play their game, you still will absolutely never win big, but you’ll be competitive and might not lose big. But, choose to follow Jesus, play His game of love, and you’ll inherit the Kingdom of heaven both now and forever thereby achieving a victory bigger than you could ever think, dream or imagine. So, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” Play well, Black excellence.