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The Lincoln Hall Project « College of Liberal Arts & Sciences « University of Illinois

Lincoln Hall Project


Rashid Robinson (BA ’93, English; PhD candidate, educational policy studies) recalls how a pick-up football game on campus led him to rethink the identity he’d created for himself growing up in Chicago.

I went to a Catholic school that was far, far away from where I lived, so I had multiple identities. There was a home identity in the neighborhood with the local kids, and then I would get on the bus and go to school, and then I would participate in that school identity, which was fundamentally different in so many ways, in terms of race, in terms of class, in terms of privileges, in terms of resources. And so I was very used to sort of flipping that switch, so to speak.

I think coming to Illinois made me have to reconcile those sorts of identities. It was an important part of sort of integrating these different parts of the self, to see what would that be like, to play with the people that I learn with, to learn with the people that I play with, and to not have them so oppositional?

So yeah, we’re talking about me being a new student down here at U of I, young, fairly lonely. And it’s a Saturday afternoon, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself, and so I’m out walking around, and I see 11 white guys playing football.

Now I really like football. You can’t tell this, I’m a skinny guy, but I really like football, I like the running and the catching, and so when I see these guys, I think, man, they’ve got 11 guys, I really want to play, I should go over there and ask, “Can I play?” But where I grew up, you know, if you’re going to go talk to 11 white guys about anything, you better have 10 other black guys with you, just to make sure the conversation stays civil.

But I really wanted to play. So I go over there. And of course the guys were great. They were like, “Oh man, yeah, absolutely.” And it was great, we had a lot of fun, throw the ball, catch the ball.

And so, the team that I got on, the guy says to me, “Can you run?” And I was like, “Sure I can run.” And so he says, “Okay, go deep.” And so he throws it—boom, I catch it. And that happened again and again and again in the course of the game. Whenever we would get bogged down, he’d just say, “Okay, what’s your name, Rashi—Rob—go deep,” and I would go and catch it.

During that time there was a team named Michigan*, and there was a running back called Raghib Ismail, and his nickname was Rocket. And my name is Rashid, so when I kept trying to, “What’s your name?” “Rashid.” And they were like, “No, no, no, we’re never going to remember that, we’re going to call you Rocket because you remind us of Rocket, the guy from Michigan.”

And so I kept that name. And that name was interesting because it gave me symbolically a new identity within this new space.

Now I’ve gone away and come back and there are still some people around campus who call me Rocket, and every now and then I’ll use it again just to remember the formation point of that identity and to remember that you can take chances and they can have good outcomes. And honestly it associates me with why I love U of I, because I associate this place with those memories, the ways in which it compelled me to grow, the ways in which it compelled me to take chances, and I’ve been very happy with the outcome.

* Raghib Ismail in fact played for Notre Dame, not Michigan, before going on to play for the Canadian Football League and the National Football League.

Rashid Robinson

(Length: 2:48)