Trae Young has played basketball in front of thousands of people. Just a few miles from Andrews Park, where he spoke Monday afternoon, he once dazzled packed gymnasiums at Norman North High School.
But addressing a large group about race, during a time of severe racial divide in America, had him a little shaken.
“I’m not, um, very open about what I see,” Young began in a roughly two-minute address, with his arms folded across his chest. “But I feel, even though I’m 21 years old, this is bigger than me.
“I grew up here in Norman, everywhere I go I try to represent this city the best I can. I know this country is in a messed up place right now. For me, I just think it’s important that we all stick together and stand up for what’s right.”
Young found his voice, and behind dark sunglasses and a black protective bandana, closed with this: “Thank you guys for letting me talk, and I just want to say, ‘No justice, no peace.’”
The deep-shooting guard who grew up before his hometown’s eyes while playing at North, and later the University of Oklahoma, is doing it again.
Speaking out on social injustices — this time it is police brutality and the death of George Floyd, which has sparked protests in numerous U.S. cities — isn’t natural for him. But he saw no other choice.
The Atlanta Hawks guard has watched on television from Norman as violent protests have broken out across the nation, including Atlanta.
He fused knowledge and emotion into a microphone in the middle of a peaceful, two-and-a-half hour rally promoting change. His dad, Rayford, and mom, Candice, watched from the crowd.
“As a dad, that’s awesome for me to see because the basketball is one thing, but that doesn’t last forever. Who you are and what you stand for last forever,” Rayford said. “So I was just happy to see him getting up there. I know he was nervous.
“Imagine being a kid that’s playing in front of thousands of people, but he’s still nervous to get on stage.”
Young comes from an interracial marriage that gave him multiple perspectives on race growing up.
But his sister, Caitlyn, who was in attendance, has arguably been the family’s most outspoken member — it was she who inspired Trae to speak, Rayford said.
Caitlyn is a strategic communications junior at TCU, with a double minor in religion and comparative and race ethnic studies. She said she has helped bring three cases of racial discrimination against university professors, and is interning with Fort Worth ISD in a program that promotes student equity.
She and Trae have spoken about messaging before, with his NBA stardom already climbing in the middle of his rookie season. They have a close, transparent relationship.
“We’ve definitely had conversations where the basis of a lot of his thoughts and opinions can be flawed or misconstrued,” Caitlyn said. “So, we go into conversations of, maybe if you looked at it from a different perspective, or if you talk about it a different kind of way it might be more productive and mindsets can be changed and more useful, especially considering the platform he has.”
She doesn’t know what her career after school holds, only that “I just want to help people.” That can be a “powerful and amazing” experience, Trae said.
In a reversal, the loudest cheers of the afternoon were not for him: They were from the echoes of chants like “Black Lives Matter” or “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
“It’s not about me today. I’m not a celebrity,” Trae said after speaking. “I’m here to be a leader, supportive. I’m here to make change. I didn’t want to come here today and it be about me. It’s about everybody. It’s about everybody that’s been a victim to this. I just want to be supportive to my Norman community and try to make change.”
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Maybe best part of @TheTraeYoung’s interview in Norman today. He looks at @CalebMac21 after his question - both wearing masks - and says “I think I went to high school with you.” pic.twitter.com/cYSFRkpXNI— Tyler Palmateer (@Tpalmateer83) June 2, 2020