BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — As Aisha Sheppard prepares for her final season with the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team, her leadership has been strengthened by the events and challenges of 2020.
Her talent speaks for itself. She led the Hokies in scoring last season and her three-point shooting has lifted the Hokies to success under head coach Kenny Brooks.
“She was my first recruit that I had here and I talk to her about how we were going to change things at Virginia Tech,” Brooks said.
But off the court, she found her own voice.
In the wake of a social reckoning on racial issues in the country, Sheppard looks to create change far beyond Blacksburg.
“We are human. We’re not just basketball players,” Sheppard said. “We’re tired.”
When the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests, it also propelled Sheppard, an Alexandria, Va.-native, to the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Growing up, I have two brothers. In the area that I lived in, I would say that they were racially profiled a lot. So I grew up having that aspect and remembering that,” Sheppard said.
And it turns out, Sheppard shared a personal connection to Floyd.
“And I did find out, after the passing of George Floyd, that he is a cousin of ours. So it really hit home because he’s within our family,” Sheppard said. “Just the fact that it keeps happening, year after year. Month after month. So I just felt like for me the platform that I have, I needed to speak out.”
Sheppard wanted her teammates to speak up too, even if they don’t necessarily agree with her views. The Hokies’ locker room provided a safe space for some much needed conversation.
“We just talk about things that we’ve heard on like debates or the news or social media,” Sheppard said. “We discuss what those things are, how we feel about them and the importance of what’s going on, especially during times like this.”
In the run-up to this year’s election, Sheppard was very vocal about getting people out to vote. 2020 marked the first time she was able to cast a ballot for a president.
Brooks often brags about how Sheppard will run for public office someday.
“She has so much respect for other people’s beliefs and the way that other people are trying to learn.” Sheppard said. “She doesn’t try to force anything on anyone. She just tries to help educate. She’s never going to make anyone feel uncomfortable in this situation and I can’t be more proud.”