Will Holiman sat courtside with his injured leg propped on a chair as his booming voice directed McAlester basketball players on the last day of workouts before the summer dead period. But after the gym emptied, his tone softened as he spoke about unrest nationwide and racial injustice.
“It’s time for a change, man,” Holiman said. “It’s been going on for a while in America, and that’s what the whole deal has been about.”
Holiman was raised in McAlester and played for the high school basketball team before graduating in 1998.
He is a husband and a father, and is now the first Black person to lead the McAlester High School boys basketball program.
Holiman said that he is always looking out for his family — and believes several other community members have experienced racism.
“My thing is, in this area, people act like it don’t exist, and it does,” Holiman said.
Holiman said his sons have been called racial slurs, and his players throughout the years have seen differences in how they were treated just by being associated with a Black coach.
So how does Holiman deal with it?
“You just move on and you hope for the best and that the person learns from the situation,” Holiman said. “You can actually deal with racism being associated with a person of color here.”
Holiman said discussing race will always be difficult, but conversation and providing information for people to learn can create positive change.
He said the McAlester area is "off to a good start" after several recent events promoting unity and protesting racism — including a peaceful march, a Black Lives Matter rally, and a community cookout.
Holiman wasn't able to participate in some of the events as he recovers from a major knee injury — but as a coach and father, he believes that it is necessary for him to be a community leader.
He’s been posting positive messages on social media and helping share information about issues. He also said it is important to learn about historical context, including Native American and Black history in Oklahoma.
“It needs to be known. Some people may be not in the know of how things go,” Holiman said. “It’s not to change somebody’s opinion about it…It’s to get it out there, but it’s not like they’re lies.
“These conversations need to be heard because it’s still around here,” he said.
Holiman said although he is a law-abiding citizen, he is scared.
He said that can't change overnight — for him or any other person who has experienced racism — but he is hopeful that sharing information and a combined effort can enact a change.
"That’s the only thing we can do is hope for it,” he added. “And try to bring it together instead of division."
Contact Derek Hatridge at firstname.lastname@example.org.