CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Kofi Cockburn says he never experienced racism.
“Back home growing up, racism wasn’t even in the picture,” says Cockburn. “Coming here, and witnessing everything first-hand was really a game changer for me, and I had to look at it from a different perspective. I just came here and saw, especially the black male, and how they’re treated in America.”
Even though Cockburn’s experience with race was different growing up, he’s now living the reality as a black man in the United States–and sees the need for change.
“The biggest thing right now is empathy, you can always put yourself in somebody else’s shoes,” says Cockburn. “Everybody knows what’s right from wrong, I don’t understand, and I think we know that racism is a nasty thing, so why doesn’t everybody else feel the same?”
Those conversations are happening within the Illinois basketball program. Head coach Brad Underwood has opened up a dialouge with the team, and Cockburn says his teammates from all over the world bring different perspectives.
“We have a totally different understanding of what’s going on,” says Cockburn. “Just to listen to these guys that’s been through it, like that’s experienced it, it’s really big so we can look at it from a different perspective.”
Sports have been at the forefront of Black Lives Matter movement, with the NBA taking center stage this week. Players held a three-day boycott, to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake. As a college athlete, Cockburn also recognizes the power of using his platform.
“A lot of people gravitate to me, a lot of people respect me, and a lot of people follow me,” says Cockburn. “I think that I need to use my voice. Not everybody has a voice, but not everybody has that platform where they express themselves, and be heard. I definitely feel like I need to be heard and have the platform that I have, so I try to convince them to do the right thing,