By MAX FILBY
It was a time when someone could be arrested or even killed just for getting a cup of coffee at a restaurant of their choice.
That may seem like something out of a History Channel program, but it’s the tension and the time period through which Herman Boone led his team of “Titans,” just 43 years ago.
“The Titans didn’t start this bridge of diversity, but they built upon what people like Dr. King and Rosa Parks started,” Boone said.
Boone, who spoke to an audience of a few hundred at the University of Findlay on Wednesday, is known for coaching the football team at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, during the first season the team was racially integrated in 1971. The 2000 movie “Remember The Titans” was based on his time there.
Boone was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the Disney movie. “I’m cheaper and better looking than Denzel,” Boone joked.
The former coach used his speech as an opportunity to praise inclusiveness and diversity but also said that more needs to be done to overcome differences in the United States.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” Boone said.
He challenged those in the audience to celebrate and utilize their differences rather than letting them create barriers between each other. The acceptance of that challenge by the Titans is what allowed them to become state champions in football, Boone said.
“Because they found a way to embrace diversity, they found a way to be champions,” Boone said. “I challenge you to be like the Titans.”
To emphasize the racial tension his team overcame, Boone referred to scenes in the movie and events that happened during his career as a football coach.
Boone said he brought his team to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of one of the deadliest battles of the Civil War.
“I told them that this was where men died and almost destroyed this country because they couldn’t work out their differences. I will not tolerate you treating another human as less than a man,” he said.
The experience shocked his team and forced them to overcome a grim history of racial tension by accepting each other, Boone said.
Boone also spoke about the struggles he faced in being the team’s first African-American coach. Boone was named coach over a former coach who had not only been successful but was white.
“In Alexandria you can even take another man’s wife out to lunch, but you cannot mess with football,” Boone said.
Boone eventually was able to work closely with the other coach and together they also overcame their differences that were fueled by racial tension in the newly-integrated school district.
Boone, whose originally scheduled appearance as part of Black History Month in February was canceled because of the weather, was invited to campus by members of the Black Student Union. Boone’s story from “Remember The Titans” is something that resonates with all University of Findlay students, said Andrea Butler, a senior and president of the Black Student Union.
A lesson in working together and embracing racial and cultural differences is something that students need, she said.
“Who else would be better for them to hear this from?” Butler said. “Being able to hear it from him, we hope this is able to kick start something like his story here.”
Sophomore SchavDon Herd said she enjoyed Boone’s speech and that his message of diversity and inclusiveness was something she would take away from the event.
“He’s obviously a big inspiration,” Herd said.
Boone said he hopes his speech will inspire the audience to embrace diversity and to speak out as often as possible.
“When the opportunity arises, don’t you ever fail to rise up,” he said “We must invite people who don’t look like us into our sphere of influence. Just like the Titans did.”
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