CHAMAPAIGN (WCIA) — Champaign-native and Illinois Volleyball player Rylee Hinton has always stood out for her volleyball skills. Sometimes, though, it’s been for other reasons.

“Being one of the only black girls, it does make me uncomfortable at times,” says Hinton. “I love my team to death, and they’re very accepting of me, but it’s still just a piece that I can’t get over that they’re aren’t more people that look like me. It’s been tough being one of the only black girls on the court my entire volleyball career.”

Rylee Hinton and Kennedy Collins are the only two black women that played for the Illini last season. In the Big Ten, African American women make up less than 20% of rosters.

In 2019, Illinois assistant coach Rashinda Reed was only one of two black women in the conference to hold full-time coaching position. Iowa’s Vicki Brown is the only black head coach in the Big Ten. Hinton feels representation is needed now more than ever.

“Club volleyball in high school is very very expensive, and so it’s tough for the black community to be involved in volleyball,” says Hinton. “I think that’s just a part of the systemic racism part of it and it’s harder for black girls to play volleyball. If you’re growing up and not seeing anyone that looks like you doing something. You’re going to think that you can’t do it–and that’s not the case at all. I hope that younger black girls can see me, and know that thy can play big ten volleyball too.”

For Hinton, the fight to end systemic racism is especially personal after hearing stories from her African American father, Gary, who also served in the airforce. Hinton tells the story of one time he got pulled over for no apparent reason:

“This really started my passion with this issue. He was just joy riding, just graduated from high school with his friend. He got randomly pulled over, and the cop didn’t even speak to him, he just pulled a gun on him, and put it against his head. My dad is serving this country, and it’s also the people that are supposed to be protecting us are the ones trying to kill us.”

She’s fighting to change that.

“It’s just something I feel so passionately about. It’s something I think about every single day, and it’s something that i can’t go through life pretending this isn’t a thing, and I just decided to dedicate my career to it.”

Hinton hopes her impact will go beyond the volleyball court, with the goal of going to law school after Illinois. Hinton is especially interested in ending systemic racism within the US prison system.