The move to funnel Spelman’s sports funding into the program, and into an $18 million state-of-the-art fitness facility, also boosted by a fundraiser last week at the Kalorama mansion of Washington social doyenne Esther Coopersmith, has been embraced by students and alumnae.
Even sports lovers such as sophomore Paige Carruthers, a high school sprinter in her home town of Boston, calls the plan “awesome . . . because when it comes to health, black women fall short.”
Says alumna Johnson: “I’d rather see 100 percent of my little sisters learn to take care of their bodies than 4 percent involved in athletics that won’t be part of their lives after they graduate.”
High school soccer player Zenniah Davis learned about the initiative after applying to Spelman for the fall semester and supports it, thanks to her “firsthand experience” with family members’ weight struggles. Yet the Sandy Spring Friends School senior stresses that body issues haunt most women, including “white, private-school girls I know who stick their fingers down their mouth after they eat, girls who are devastated to have any butt at all and others who ask, ‘Why can’t I have a [round] booty like you?’
“My black friends ask me, ‘What happened to your butt?’ Because I do sports, it doesn’t jiggle.”
Zenniah sighs, frustrated. When it comes to women’s body images, she says, “You can’t win.”
When frustration tempts Tatum, she recalls Spelman’s history. Founded in 1881 in a church basement by two white, female Massachusetts visionaries whose 11 students had just been freed from slavery, its mission was simple: Educate ex-bondswomen who would in turn teach and inspire their children and their community.
The point wasn’t just owning. It was sharing.
“So when people ask what would success look like, it’s not how many collective pounds we lose, but about creating a culture of movement,” she says. It’s about getting black women and the people they love “to think about movement like they think about brushing their teeth: Something they do every day to ensure good health over a lifetime.”
Britt is a former Washington Post columnist and is the author of “Brothers (and Me): A Memoir of Loving and Giving.”