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New York Liberty Rookie And Former UCLA Basketball Star Helps Build A Platform For Positive Change

By Hunter Carroll 

The 2021 WNBA Draft was full of surprises, and though UCLA senior Michaela Onyenwere had a great college career, she wasn’t expected to go as high as she did. 

Most mock drafts projected Onyenwere to be a late first-round to early second-round pick, but ended up going No. 6 overall to the New York Liberty. 

“Her confidence is really high, but she’s humble,” head coach Walt Hopkins said of Onyenwere, as reported by Jackie Powell at The Next. “She’s selfless, but she’s really confident, you know, she’s got a really nice mix of characteristics from a cultural personality standpoint that I think are gonna work really well here in New York. To go with that, you combine all of that with her intelligence and her capacity athletically, it’s a scary combination.”

Onyenwere racked up a string of various honors during her time at UCLA, including watchlist and finalist appearances on the late-season top-20 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award and the Senior CLASS Award. While the Wooden Award recognizes players for their work on the court, the CLASS Award recognizes a senior in NCAA women’s basketball who excels in the classroom, is extremely involved in the community, and also demonstrates strong character, leadership, and an overall sense of intense competition. 

On top of playing in 116 games throughout her career and starting in 82 of them, Onyenwere helped create the “More than a D.R.E.A.M.” initiative at UCLA alongside teammates Lauryn Miller, Charisma Osborne, and Camryn Brown. D.R.E.A.M., which is an acronym for Diversify, Reveal, Educate, Advocate, and Motivate, was designed to raise awareness towards racial injustice and promote prominent Black societal figures and highlight Black-owned businesses in Los Angeles. 

Through their initiative, Onyenwere helped create “Bruin Table Talk,” a talk show designed to educate people on the racial injustices that Black people in the U.S. face through speaking with prominent UCLA alumni, including sports broadcaster Cari Champion, actress Gabrielle Union, and former NBA player Baron Davis. 

“We are striving to be at the cornerstone of change as we advance towards a world that embodies true equality,” Onyenwere said during episode 1 of Bruin Table Talk. “We are committed to sculpting a new culture in which everyone feels safe, seen, and heard, regardless of race, identity, or background.”

While raising awareness regarding racial injustice, Onyenwere also saw the opportunity to use her platform as a college athlete to highlight the excellences and joys that come out of the Black community and give back to the community.

“Our goals include community service that directly affects Black people, supporting Black-owned businesses and caterers that are specific to our team, and supporting charitable organizations that directly affect the Black community,” Onyenwere continued. “That means giving our gear that we are not really using while also mentoring black children in our community.”

Before creating the initiative on campus, Onyenwere had been relatively quiet as an advocate for social rights. The UCLA women’s basketball team has optional team discussions about racial issues, but Onyenwere avoided these meetings because she felt pain when talking about African Americans dying. 

Following various social justice movements across the country over the past year, specifically the George Floyd protests of 2020, Onyenwere was motivated to use her voice to promote change. That was when “More than a D.R.E.A.M” came to be.

“We’ve been silent for too long,” Onyenwere told Thuc Nhi Nguyen of The Los Angeles Times. “At the end of the day, I knew what I wanted to do, we knew what we wanted to say, we knew what we wanted to accomplish.”

Now that the initiative is entirely underway, Michaela and her teammates who started the platform hope that they can leave a legacy and keep “More than a D.R.E.A.M” going following their graduation. 

Onyenwere also continues to push for people to continue to educate themselves on how they can help the African American community. 

“I think education is very important, and there are so many ways to educate yourself. Whether that’s [through] movies, documentaries, books, or listening to your black friends, that [all] gives you a way to educate yourself by becoming an ally,” she said.

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