The PNC Legacy Project opened the Celebrating Black History Month exhibit on Martin Luther King Day 2014. To bring the exhibit to young people, the Legacy Project introduced an essay contest for 6th-8th grade students in Pittsburgh Public Schools. The three winning students later interviewed the subjects of their essays. This is the second of three entries in a special profile series exclusively for the New Pittsburgh Courier. Here, Gigi Varlotta, an 8th grade student at Pittsburgh CAPA, interviews Swin Cash, Olympic gold medalist, entrepreneur and philanthropist.
This winter during Black History Month, my English class had to write an essay about a famous African-American with ties to our community. I chose Swin Cash, and the assignment ended up being the most rewarding school assignment I have ever done. As I began learning more about Swin’s life, I became more intrigued and kept going deeper into the project. I spent hours on the internet, watched several videos and read her autobiography. When my teacher told us that she was going to enter our essays in a Black History Month competition, I was excited. When it came time to write the essay, I decided that I wanted to try to win the competition…and I did! The best part of it was that I got to meet Swin in person and interview her.
It was absolutely amazing. To be able to sit at a table with her and ask her questions was unbelievable. Quickly into the interview, I was completely hooked. Each answer was more interesting than the last. She was so wise and so nice and seemed like such a good person, I couldn’t believe it. It was like we were becoming really good friends on the spot. I walked away from the interview feeling excited, inspired and confident that I too could follow my dreams and turn them into reality.
Here is the interview. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
There are different levels of success: being good, being great and being the best. You are one of the most talented basketball players in the world. How did you reach that level of success?
“For me, hard work. I always say to people, whatever you put in is what you get out. That’s always the number one thing. Do your very best. I learned at a very young age growing up in Harrison Village in McKeesport that I had to look at others around me. I saw my mom get up everyday and go to work; even if she was tired or not feeling well, she still worked really hard.
“So I had great role models from that perspective like aunts and uncles who I admired and appreciated. That helped me get a foundation of what hard work looked like, what it felt like and what I needed to do. So I carried that with me in sports and in the classroom. I always just wanted to be the very best I could be.
“When I set off on this journey to, first, I went to college because I wanted an education. My family couldn’t afford to give me the money, but I had a special gift from God to be able to play sports so I used that in order to get an education. Then it was like, wow, I can be a professional athlete and potentially be in the Olympics…I never wanted to leave a legacy that I was famous. It’s still weird to me when people say to me at the mall, ‘Hey, Swin Cash.’ I’m shy, but I never wanted to be famous; I want to be remembered. I want people to remember me for all the things I do not only on the court but off the court.”
I know that you want to have a family, so thinking about that, if you could give your daughter one thing, one talent what would that be?
“I would give her the knowledge, the ability to run a country whether the United States as president or another country. I would ask that she would have the heart and knowledge to accomplish that and to help others. I live by the Scripture; to whom much is given, much is required. So I would pray that she would have the ability to love, to nurture and to help others.”
What is it about basketball that makes it so special?
“I love to compete. When I was younger we lived in a high rise where our living room window looked out onto the basketball court. So I would go outside, and I’d play by myself and act like I scored the last basket.
“When I realized that dribbling a basketball could change my life, whatever I needed to put into it to help me be successful I was going to do that. So I fell in love with the game because the game for me, at some point early on, was a way out, a way to get my education, a way to travel the world. So now why do I still love it? I’m more seasoned. I love it because it’s a passion of mine but at some point I have to make a decision to let that go to help other young girls chase their dreams.”
You are a role model for both women and people of color. Do you ever feel like it’s too much pressure?
“I never feel too much pressure. There are times when you’re pulled in different directions. But I say this, with visibility comes responsibility. So I’m a very visible person. I’ve won a lot. I’ve done a lot. It wouldn’t be right for me to not give back and not be an example for young girls.
“Having the ability to travel the world; we are all beautiful—different shapes, colors and sizes. I take it very personally to make sure that every young girl understands that.”
You’re involved in a lot of great causes, like Cash for Kids. What is your favorite “giving back” project?
“I really enjoy our youth basketball leagues. Whenever I come home and I see the look on kids’ faces, even the younger kids who are just learning the game. There could be one kid who has never made a basket and they make it in that moment and to see the celebration and the joy means a lot.
“Because at Cash for Kids, we don’t charge kids for anything that we do, we encourage them to come because it’s free. We create a safe environment where they are happy and learning lessons along the way. That’s the focus.
Pittsburgh is home for me. I believe in giving back. Pittsburgh and McKeesport have always supported me. That’s where my heart is.”
The Celebrating Black History Month exhibit will be open until the fall of 2014. Exhibit hours are Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3p.. Nonprofits are welcome to schedule events and meetings in the exhibit at no cost. Contact the PNC Legacy Project team at 412-762-3380 to inquire.
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