Children are often taught to think in binary terms. For instance, some kids grow up in environments where athletes and artists don’t intersect, where you learn early on that you’re either one or the other.
That was the case for WNBA player Imani McGee-Stafford, who discovered her love of poetry and performance at an early age, but because of her height — she was already 6’5 as a middle-schooler — the expectation was that she would follow in the footsteps of her mom, Pam McGee, and older brother, JaVale McGee, into a career on the hardwood.
She did eventually nurture a passion for hoops, which has led her to a WNBA career as a member of the Atlanta Dream, but McGee-Stafford has always insisted that her first love is for the written word. And there’s a reason for that: Expressing herself in writing has helped her work through devastating personal trauma that she suffered as a child.
Via Matthew Stock of Boston’s NPR affiliated WBUR:
“I consider poetry air. It was my way to exhale — my way to express things that I didn’t know how to say — while basketball was confidence. It was the ability to feel like I was bigger than whatever I was going through. When I made a free throw — or got a good block or rebound or whatever — I just felt so much bigger than whatever was trying to kill me.
“So I guess I’m a poet first. But I think, like, poet is who I am, and basketball is what I do.”
Through writing and therapy, McGee-Stafford says she has worked to heal herself from years of sexual abuse during her adolescence. She first gained prominence for her work during her sophomore season at Texas when she filmed a video segment about her poetry for the Longhorn Network that eventually was picked up by ESPN and ran throughout March Madness that season.
Since then, she’s published a debut collection of poetry and continues to use her platform to help other victims come forward and work through their own experiences. She’s also a pretty darn good ballplayer, making the WNBA All-Rookie team in 2016 and winning a championship in China in 2018.