WNBA’s Tiffany Mitchell on becoming an advocate for single-parent families

WNBA Player Tiffany Mitchell of the Indiana Fever
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Editor’s Note: The WNBA’s Indiana Fever and Anthem Inc. recently announced a multi-year partnership that will address racial injustice and health inequity in underserved communities. As part of the program, seven Fever players are currently participating in a five-week “Athlete to Advocate” course, led by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Over the next several weeks, Tiffany Mitchell – who has played five seasons as a member of the Fever – will be writing about her experience in the course for the On Her Turf blog.

By Tiffany Mitchell, as told to Alex Azzi 

I started playing basketball because of my older brother Tory, who played a bunch of sports. He would come home with trophies and I remember asking my mom, ‘How did he get all these trophies? And why don’t I have any?’ Once she explained that they were from basketball, I was like, ‘I’m gonna play basketball too so I can get some trophies.’

When I first started, I wasn’t very good. I played on a boys’ team and I remember running up and down the court and just jumping on people’s backs. I literally had no skill, just a lot of energy. But eventually, I caught on to how the game works.

It was Tory who told my mom, ‘You know, Tiffany is actually kind of good.’ He was the one who convinced her to keep signing me up for basketball.

My mom, Cheryl, raised me and Tory on her own. My dad was basically never part of our household, but I never really thought there was anything wrong with that when I was younger. My mom did an amazing job of making it seem like we weren’t missing out on anything.

Tiffany Mitchell and her mom Cheryl
Tiffany and her mom Cheryl

My mom is like superwoman. Everything she did, I always felt like, ‘I can do that, too.’ I feel like I still have the mentality that I can do anything, thanks to my mom. Sometimes I think that might be a gift and a curse because there are times when I probably need help with some things.

My mom was a teacher for 17 years, but when I was growing up, she went back to school to get her second Master’s degree to become a school principal. My school principal. It wasn’t the best when I got in trouble, but there were some perks to her being the principal.

When I was nine or ten, I started playing AAU basketball. I started on a team in Charlotte called Queen City Jewels, but eventually I began playing with a team in Atlanta because it was more competitive and provided more exposure to college scouts

After school on Fridays, we would make the drive to Atlanta – about three-and-a-half hours one way. Sometimes my mom just literally couldn’t take me, but she always made sure everything was in place to get me where I needed to go. I remember taking a train one time, another time I flew by myself.

While my mom made it look easy, I know that being a single parent can be really tough.

So in December, I started my own non-profit based in Charlotte. It’s called “SPIN (Single Parents in Need) Haven.” I know there are families that are dealing with some of the same things my family dealt with, but maybe can’t handle them well as my mom did.

I’m still figuring out how my organization can be the most helpful, but I know I want it to be a haven, a safe place, for families, kids, moms, dads, any type of single-parent family.

When I first heard about the “Athlete to Advocate” program, I didn’t really understand it, but I knew it was something that I would be interested in doing. The first session provided an overview of philanthropy.

When we hear the word ‘philanthropy,’ I think most people imagine multi-millionaires, and even some of the negative connotations of philanthropy, like people who are only doing it to be seen or get tax write-offs.

But something I learned is that I’m already a philanthropist. Anyone who is willing to give back in any way can be considered a philanthropist. It’s all about giving a voice to the voiceless.

The first session definitely gave me a lot to think about going forward, and I know these lessons will benefit me after my basketball career, but also now, while I’m still playing. As a WNBA player, I know I have a platform. But when it comes to using my platform or speaking out on social media, I want to make sure I’m going about it the right way.

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