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Who Are We Now? For Young Cal Alums, We’re a Community Speaking Up

July 28, 2020

Recent national events have changed much about the world we live in and have sparked questions about how such events influence our identities. Both personally and collectively, we are wrestling with our individuality and struggling to have productive, honest conversations with one another. That’s why there’s something very special about Maria Smith, Isabella Marten, Jordan Veasy, and Elijah Hicks—a few of Berkeley’s new and impending alumni who are making a difference by sharing their perspectives on current events.

In the first installment of the Who Are We Now? series, Jordan Veasy ’18, Isabella Marten ’18, and Elijah Hicks ’20 connected with host Joe Spano ’67 to openly explore the notion of identity amid COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. For student-athletes at Cal, athletics is an important part of their lives and identities; now that sports seasons are canceled due to COVID-19, they are left to grapple with the fact that a part of who they are is being stripped away.

Who Are We Now? creator Maria Smith ’19 is a former Cal tennis star who ranked 112th nationally and was one of four Golden Bears included in the Oracle/ITA singles poll in 2019. In 2018, Maria reached the doubles round of 16 in the ITA Northwest Regional Championships and won singles and doubles titles in the Cal Fall Invitational. In 2017, Smith was named the Athletic Study Center Scholar-Athlete of the Week and was a Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention recipient. Smith thought of the idea for this series as she reflected on our self-conceptions and what makes us who we are, realizing that these themes need to be at the center of the conversations we have during precarious times.

“It’s my place, and everybody’s place, to speak up.” —Isabella Marten ’18

In her college career, Isabella Marten ’18 lettered in track and field, scoring as a two-time first-team All-American at the D1 NCAA Nationals and winning the Pac-12 Championships for Cal in 2016 and 2017. Marten earned the Pac-12 Women’s Field Athlete of the Week honors in 2018 as a junior at Cal and won first in the women’s triple jump at the 2018 Sacramento State Hornet Invitational with a leap of 41-7.00/12.67m, the third-longest jump in the country that season. In response to worldwide demonstrations, Marten reflects, “It was important to see all my white friends willing to listen and educate themselves and ask me questions they don’t usually feel comfortable asking. As someone who is half Black, half white, sometimes I don’t know where I belong—but I’ve now found my voice as a Black woman. It’s my place, and everybody’s place, to speak up.”

NFL wide receiver Jordan Veasy ’18 in conversation on our collective identity.
Former Cal football player Jordan Veasy ’18 is now a professional wide receiver for the NFL’s Washington Football Team. When he played for Cal, Jordan amassed 63 receptions for 797 yards and 9 touchdowns. Veasy’s experience includes spending time on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad, the Indianapolis Colts’ reserves, and the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad. Veasy appreciates that his voice and the voices of others are being heard, and he is hopeful about the future: “It’s always darkness before dawn. Having a camaraderie of people of different races come and be alongside us has been huge.”

Cal football player Elijah Hicks ’20 is the founder of Intercept Poverty, a nonprofit providing low-income Cal students with scholarship assistance. In March, Hicks and Intercept Poverty partnered with No Kid Hungry to help raise money for food-insecure children from low-income families across the country. His campaign, Intercept Poverty COVID-19, involved six other Pac-12 defensive backs and has raised an impressive $63,560 to date. (Hicks’ original campaign goal was $10,000.) Helping others is a passion of Hicks’: “This pandemic has made me realize what I really like to do. I was lucky to have people to help me through my upbringing, and that’s what I feel good about doing for others.” Hicks believes that the nation’s fight against racial injustice has brought a sense of unity: “There’s still a long way to go, but I think we’re certainly making strides and making changes.”

Watch Who Are We Now? on demand.