Spending an evening with George Raveling

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Most people that attend or attended Rowan University don’t know the history behind it.

The only real history I knew was the whole Glassboro Summit Conference thing. Back when President Lyndon B. Johnson and Premier Alexei Kosygin found the perfect distance between Washington D.C. and New York City to discuss how to limit the use of anti-ballistic missile systems, Glassboro was just that place.

I didn’t learn that information until 5:15 p.m. last night, where I was given a tour of Hollybush Mansion, alongside George Raveling, just a couple hours before his talk at a packed Tohill Theatre in Bunce Hall.

I had talked to Dr. John Giannini, head of Rowan’s Center for Sports Communication and Social Impact, about Raveling to some extent leading up to his arrival. We spoke about how the 81-year-old Raveling had transformed the way modern day college basketball coaching had developed, becoming the first African American collegiate coach at Washington State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Southern California.

I’d learned about his possession of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” original speech at the Washington Monument, where Raveling served as a security guard and asked for the three ink-filled pages, not knowing the impact it would have until 50 years later.

I’d heard about his time at Nike, where he became the Director of International Basketball  and was later inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

I had no clue that two weeks later I’d be sitting inside the same building Johnson and Kosygin sat, enjoying a private dinner with Raveling. The ravioli were great.

But there I was, sitting directly across from a man that has seen and experienced more than I ever dreamed of.

I marveled at the simplicity he holds himself to, tucking a napkin into a regular shirt and preparing to sit for an hour with five typical college students to talk.

All because he simply wanted to be there.

The six of us sit at a marble table, talking about how we interpret current day life, how Raveling came to be the man he was, his inspirations, how his love for reading books (he would later reveal he carries about 30 in his car) and how his desire to be a good person drives him to be who he is, day in and day out.

I asked if he can relate Colin Kaepernick’s movement with that of Dr. King’s. Really, I got to ask Raveling about this. I found myself in awe. I still do as I type this.

At this point, most journalists, like myself that want to get quality clips of writing to use for eventual employment opportunities, would get the pen and paper out and start writing his answers. I didn’t. I wanted to listen. To really talk and live in the moment there with him.

His answer was simple, yet exquisite.

Talking about how there’s still so much work to do and how we have to be able to look forward and not into the past. It’s a big reason why he gave us a laugh before moving onto a serious note; saying he refuses to hangout with people his age. He says there’s so much to learn from younger generations, so much to digest. That, if he was to hang with a bunch of 81-year-old dudes he’d lose his mind because they are always talking about the past, not the present and the future.

An hour later, I’m walking into Tohill Theatre from dinner; Raveling and Giannini were sitting there, just talking. Two insanely accomplished people having a conversation in front of hundreds. And most of it wasn’t about Raveling’s receiving of the speech, his time as a coach or his time at Nike.

Most of it was about George Raveling.

He told his stories. He told us how he lost both of his parents, his father at nine and his mother, who was institutionalized after an anxiety attack when he was 13.

He spoke of how much his grandmother meant to him and how she encouraged his love of books because it was said that white people would put money in books on shelves because they said blacks couldn’t read, so they wouldn’t bother to even look in the books. Raveling went against that because of his grandmother’s resilience. He now designates whole days, not hours or minutes, into reading books, magazines and blogs.

He recalled his experience in China, where a man came over to him and rubbed his hand to attempt to get the color off, as if it was painted on him. The Chinese man had never seen a black man before.

Perhaps Raveling’s most remarkable statement (it’s very difficult to find a top one, as every word that was spoken was just poetic) was that everyone in the theatre and everyone in the world has something in common:

We all wear an invisible sign saying that we want to be important, that we all want to be loved.

His amusing and personal analogies that told the crowd to never look “outside of the box,” because we “shouldn’t have boxes to begin with,” which brought at least 15 back and forth head nods from the couple in front of me alone.

I could only imagine the sea of agreement that Raveling saw before his eyes.

Raveling’s outlook on human emotion and how much we, as a society, need each other to prosper and get the good out of life, took over the presentation that ended in a well-deserved standing ovation.

George Raveling spoke in front of a crowded Tohill Theatre at Rowan University not as the man that had revolutionized college coaching, or as the man that holds one of what he says is the top-four most important speeches in American history, or as the man that earned a top position in the basketball sector of Nike.

He spoke as himself. George Raveling, the lover of books, people and everything in between.

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