March 31, 2013
By Jon Cooper
In a perfect world there would be no need for things like children’s advocacy groups or education reform.
But in the real world there are very real needs for such things.
Shayla Bivins knows just how important that need is, having learned about those issues at an early age, growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., where her mother taught third grade in low-income areas, and plans on doing something about it.
“I’ve often visited her classroom, I could see the problems and the inequities in education in America,” she said. “My mother’s amazing. To see her work with her kids, it excites me and because I do eventually want to practice education policy, educational law reform.”
Her ambition in making a positive difference long term and her tireless efforts in creating positive change in the Atlanta community during her years at Georgia Tech were part of what has made her a finalist for the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award presented by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.
The award recognizes undergraduate students of color who live in a manner that personifies the standards set by former tennis legend Arthur Ashe Jr., who passed away in 1993. The final 20 male and 20 female student-athletes must compete in an intercollegiate sport, maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.2 and be active on campus and in the surrounding community.
That describes Bivins.
“If you look up ‘involved’ and ‘volunteer’ in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Shayla,” said Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball Head Coach MaChelle Joseph. “She has always shown strong desires to be more than just a student and an athlete. She easily identifies causes that she believes in, and takes roles in helping to promote these causes to others.
“Shayla doesn’t shy away from keeping herself involved in different activities that she cares about even if it means she doesn’t get much quiet time to herself,” Joseph added. “She truly sees the benefit in the long run of her involvement, for both herself and for those that she chooses to work with. She is never proud, but truly believes that she is here to serve and to encourage others to do the same.”
Being nominated for an award that carries Ashe’s name is a big deal.
“I found out that he was an awesome player. But aside from being just a great athlete he was a great citizen, a great person,” she said. “He was very caring and giving to his community and he demonstrated a lot of the characteristics and a lot of the things that myself and members within SAAB (the Student-Athlete Advisory Board) try to emulate. Not just being an athlete, being a smart person, being a generous person and being selfless.
“At the age of 12 I had the dream of playing college basketball and I thought that I would simply be a basketball player,” she added. “But college basketball is so much more than just being a player. Involvement in the community and academic achievements are what’s really important. Being a well-rounded student-athlete, not just an athlete.”
Bivins is President of the SAAB and has made it a mission to bring student-athletes and the entire campus together.
“One of the reasons why I got involved [in SAAB] was because there’s kind of a stigma at Tech, where athletes aren’t intelligent and they don’t have a relationship with most of campus. I wanted to come into this organization and change that,” she said. “I wanted people to know that we’re nice and we’re intelligent and we’re not just dumb jocks. I just don’t want people to think that we’re only basketball players or only football players or only volleyball players. We’re so much more than that and we have so much more to offer besides our God-given athletic talent.”
Bivins graduates in May but has one more year of eligibility — she took a voluntary redshirt between her sophomore and junior years — and is determined to be a part of next year’s team, with the goal of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
“I have so much that I want to accomplish as an athlete,” she said. “Prior to this year, I had not really played a ton and so this year I was just incredibly excited to finally be in the mix. Having gotten that experience this year I know exactly what I need to do to do better and to help my teammates.
“I have such a high standard for myself and I hold my teammates to that same high standard,” she added. “This year we had a challenging season, but because we hold each other to such a high standard, I have no doubt that we will get back to the Tournament and back to the Sweet 16, where we finished last year.”
Bivins has set a similarly high standard for her goals after college.
She actually has put herself in a bit of a quandary for this summer, as she has two divergent options. She can work in sports law with the firm of Gordon & Rees or with the Fulton County Office of the Child Attorney.
Further down the road, there is that big-picture goal of helping children and, with her mom in mind, acting as an advocate for positive change within the education system. She has applied to Teach For America, an organization in which teammate Sharena Taylor has accepted a position.
“I love children and I have a passion for working with them so it’s always been in my heart,” she said. “I think having Sharena here, she kind of nudged me to do it and so it was like a little push to get me going but I’ve always had a passion for children.
“I think what better experience can I get than working in the classroom and understanding the issues and concerns of not only students but parents and teachers as well?” she added. “I hope to eventually be advocating and fighting for these different groups of people. So in order to do that I feel like I need to get my hands dirty and do some dirty work. It will be beneficial in the long run.”
The winner of the Ashe Award will be announced in the April 11 edition of Diverse, but in Bivins’ mind, she’s already won.
“Just being a finalist is invaluable,” she said. “I will forever remember it. When I told my parents, I was very, very proud to say it. Some people would say, ‘Oh, I was just a finalist.’ But being a finalist for such a prestigious award is absolutely incredible.”