Join us for an intergenerational conversation between athletes of African descent


Thursday, December 12, 2019

7:30 – 9:00 PM

Free with RSVP


Inspired by our current site specific art installation Gymnasium by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, The Africa Center presents a discussion about athletes of African descent who participate in sports stereotypically not perceived to be for them. From elite gymnastics to swimming, fencing to skeleton, certain sports are not commonly associated with Black participation and excellence. Yet the assumption that certain sports do not have athletes of African descent ignores the incredible achievements of Black athletes in these fields, while also ignoring the very real barriers to participation and success that they have overcome in order to get where they are today.


For this event, Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast Wendy Hilliard is joined by – Olympic skeleton racer Simidele Adeagbo, Harlem Honeys and Bears synchronized swim team President Luther Gales, Harlem Honeys and Bears youth representative Justine Hill, Olympic saber fencer Daryl Homer, and Chief Squash Officer at StreetSquash Simba Muhwati – for a conversation about the achievements and experiences of athletes of African descent in atypical sports. How do children and young people of African descent generally get involved and progress in these sports? What are their experiences of taking part in sports where they may be one of very few Black people in the room? What barriers to participation exist, and how can these be addressed? What structural issues need to be addressed? Have things changed over time, and what will be most important for the coming generations?

The conversation will take place against the backdrop of Gymnasiuma wall painting recently commissioned by The Africa Center and on view until January 2020. In this piece, artist Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi uses the field of elite gymnastics as a lens for examining the precarious position of the Black body in traditionally white spaces. The walls of The Africa Center become a vast, abstracted arena in which a lone gymnast performs (or falters) before the scrutinizing gaze of robed judges. As Nkosi says, “The artist, like the gymnast, is a performer (if at times a reluctant performer) whose actions are subjected to constant scrutiny, for whom increasing exposure brings a heightened experience of vulnerability.” 


SIMIDELE ADEAGBO is an Olympian, entrepreneur and advocate best known for becoming the first African and Black woman to compete in Olympic Skeleton. For more than fifteen years, Simidele led innovative marketing campaigns at Nike, and today is a popular keynote speaker and presenter who helps girls build their leadership skills through the uplifting power of sport. Simidele has appeared in leading media outlets such as CNN, NBC, ESPNUSA Today, Essence, Forbes, and Sports Illustrate and was hailed by the New York Times as “a role model for Africa and beyond.”

LUTHER GALES was born in 1940 in Harlem.  He is a graduate of Charles Evans Hughes Highschool. His first job was as a lifeguard at Riss beach. He joined the Marines in 1959 and was honorably discharged then became part of the New York City Housing Police (later merged into the NYPD) from 1965 until 1987. Gales has completed over thirty triathlons, three marathons, over fifty 3-10K runs, over twenty bike races, and several swim races. He is married with five children and nine grandchildren. Gales and his wife Dorothy Bradley have lived and their Harlem townhouse for 40 years.

JUSTINE HILL is a 12-year-old, 7th-grade honor student who attends Harlem Village Academy. She studies theater, dance, drumming, and is an active company member of Dr. Glory’s Youth Theatre. She has been performing in musical theater since the age of 6. She also participates in the Harlem Honeys and Bears youth learn to swim program. Four years ago, she was temporarily part of the Wendy Hilliard gymnastics program at Riverbank State Park.

WENDY HILLIARD is a trailblazer in Women’s Olympic and community sports. She was the first African American to represent the US in rhythmic gymnastics and become President of the Women’s Sports Foundation. She is also in the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. She competed in 3 World Championships, the 1984 Olympic Trials and coached a 1996 Olympian. Hilliard has worked as a gymnastics and Olympic sportscaster and has performed with the world’s top gymnasts as well as on Broadway. Hilliard was the Director of Sports for the NYC 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Bid. In 1996, she founded the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation which has provided free and low-cost gymnastics for over 18,000 urban youth in Harlem and in her hometown of Detroit. Wendy studied Russian and Physical Education at Wayne State University and graduated with honors from New York University. She resides in Harlem with her husband, Robert Mensah and sons Kennedy and Bailey.

DARYL HOMER is a two-time Olympic World Championship Medalist, a National Champion, and a NCAA Champion. He was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and raised in the Bronx, New York. He is currently training and competing towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Homer partners with global organizations including OSIWA, The United Nations, 14+ Foundation, and Right to Play on creative projects/initiatives to bring sports diplomacy, equity and access to the forefront of global conversation. Most recently, he has been named as an Athlete Role Model for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. Homer has been featured by lifestyle and athletic press for his athletic accolades including Vogue, ESPN’s The UnDefeated, DeadSpin, The New Yorker, amongst many others.

SIMBA MUHWATI began his squash career at age six in his home country of Zimbabwe, and moved to the United States in 2005, when he joined the Trinity College Squash team. In addition to being named captain his senior year, Muhwati was a Second Team All-American, and won five National Collegiate Championships (four as a player, and one as an assistant coach). After graduating, he moved to Massachusetts, and served as Head Squash Professional at Cross Courts Squash and Fitness Center for seven years. Muhwati is heavily involved with US Squash, and is a Level 3 Certified Coach, as well as a Certified Gold Tournament Director. He has coached the US Junior National Team in various international events and was recently appointed the Men’s Jr. National Assistant Coach. Prior to joining StreetSquash as Chief Squash Officer, Muhwati served as the Assistant Director of Squash at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York.



Subscribe to our mailing list.

* indicates required

Support The Center