Former BYU basketball star Yoeli Childs opens up about his life as a black man in predominantly white Utah
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) tries to work the ball inside as Nevada Wolf Pack forward Johncarlos Reyes (12) defends in basketball action at the Marriott Center in Provo, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.
If silence is compliance, Yoeli Childs didn’t want to keep quiet any longer.
Influenced by the protests against racial injustice and police brutality that have rocked the streets of Salt Lake City and much of the United States for nearly three weeks straight, the former BYU basketball star spoke out Wednesday afternoon. In a lengthy Instagram post
, Childs shared his experiences as a black man growing up in Utah and urged people to listen to the demands for change.
Childs, who grew up in South Jordan, wrote in part, “I understand that ‘all lives matter’ but not everyone knows that Black Lives Matter. Black lives have been treated as lesser for the entire history of our country. We are seen as threats and criminals because of the traditions passed down through generations.”
Childs, who is predicted to be a top-40 prospect in the upcoming NBA draft, recounted some of his own ordeals. Among them is realizing people saw him differently when, at age 11, a woman rushed to her car in a grocery store parking lot and locked the door as he walked by. He said he has been followed and accused of shoplifting in stores and was called racial slurs while playing basketball for Bingham High. While playing for BYU, he said he was pulled over by a police officer who didn’t believe Childs’ car was his own. He said he has received death threats.
Childs also recounted racial profiling incidents experienced by his little brother, Masay, which twice included having police officers point a gun at his head. One of the times, an officer told Masay he was “in the wrong neighborhood,” Childs wrote. In the other, officers reportedly told Childs’ brother his car “fit a description.”
“I, like so many people in this country, am angry, sad, hurt, and desperate for change,” Childs wrote. “I don’t agree with violence, but please understand what Martin Luther King meant when he said, ‘riots are the language of the unheard.’”
He added, “No, I don’t want to see violence and no, I don’t advocate for destruction, but the Message that Black Lives Matter and that change is necessary needs to be heard.”
Childs’ voice lends some volume to that message. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward graduated this spring as one of the Cougars’ most accomplished players. He holds BYU’s career rebounding record with 1,053 and is ranked No. 6 all-time in scoring with 2,031 points. In addition, he holds the honor of being the only BYU player to reach at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career.
During his senior year, Childs averaged 22.2 points and nine rebounds per game for a Cougars team that was ranked No. 14 in the nation when the coronavirus cut the season short. That was despite sitting out four games with an injured finger. The NCAA also required he sit out the first nine games of the season because of an error in paperwork made after he filed for the 2019 NBA draft and then decided to return to BYU.
As strong as his statistics were with the Cougars, the strength of his character is what coach Mark Pope often touted about Childs his senior year.
“I think the one thing and maybe the most important thing that he’s added is that he’s become a monster of a teammate,” Pope told The Tribune in February.
Childs is also a member of The Church of Latter-day Saints. He joined shortly after he started to attend services as a way to hang out with Megan Boudreaux, a Cougars volleyball player whom he married in August 2018.
Childs’ Instagram post drew nearly 6,500 likes in less than 20 hours Wednesday. Many of the hundreds of commenters thanked him for helping them understand the civil rights movement currently underway.
“I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know how to fix everything but I believe it starts with hearing the experiences of others and trying to educate yourself on why things are the way they are,” Childs wrote. “This world needs more empathy and willingness to listen and change. There is no shame in not knowing things or not knowing what to do. The problem comes when you start to learn there is an issue and choose to be blind to it.”