On Sunday, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team will wear custom shoes and a pregame shirt to promote racial justice in its nationally televised game against the No. 6 Louisville Cardinals. The shirt and shoes feature art from local artist Kamika Perry, a Jamaican immigrant who has lived in the South Bend area for more than 10 years.
Perry calls the artwork on the T-shirt “Hope.” It depicts a young Black woman wearing a Notre Dame jersey with her hair tied in the shape of two basketballs. The back of the shirt bears the message, “We hope, we inspire, we believe,” a quote from coach Niele Ivey.
“For me as a coach and for my players and student-athletes to put it on our shoes to just display a message of hope for a better tomorrow, just bring awareness to Black Lives Matter and things that have been going on within the climate of our society right now," Ivey, the first Black woman head coach in Notre Dame history, tells Sports Illustrated.
In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team has used its platform to bring attention to racial justice. In October the team led a community walk they said was "to raise awareness of social injustice, uplift the Black community, and focus attention on dismantling systems of oppression."
The team also knelt during the national anthem in December before its ACC opener against Georgia Tech, releasing a statement that said in part, “We recognize this is just a small first step towards making a change in this country. It must not and will not be our only act to promote social change.”
Perry, the artist behind the new project, felt honored to work on it with Ivey's program. “I believe that social justice needs to focus on love in the future, things that are hopeful, and we don't need to concentrate on all the dark stuff anymore," she says. "It is time for us to lift each other up, and everyone comes together with their voice.”
Every player chose a word or phrase for their shoes, from “BLM” to “Do More.” Perry hand-painted 17 pairs of shoes, from morning until night for weeks, in painstaking detail. All 17 began as plain white Under Armour basketball shoes, but with layers of paint, Perry turned them into a matte black. Each shoe was then hand-painted with Perry's own design of a fist in the shape of a beating heart in vibrant shades of red, blue and yellow.
Sunday will not be the first time that Notre Dame women’s basketball has worn a pregame shirt to protest racial injustice. In December 2014 the team wore T-shirts reading “I Can’t Breathe” during warmups to protest the police killing of Eric Garner. At the time, the Irish were the first women’s basketball team to wear the shirts, after other high-profile players had also worn them in the NBA and NFL.
Sophomore guard Anaya Peoples said that the 2014 team inspired the current roster to publicly join the fight for racial justice. “They took that stance and they brought awareness and it inspired us, actually. And we talked about that. We're like, O.K., what can we do to carry on this legacy of Notre Dame women's basketball speaking on important issues?” Peoples says. “How you look and what you wear is powerful. I mean, from our shoes to our shirt, we're determined to bring awareness to this.”
Perry, who admits she never had much time to watch sports, says that this opportunity has made her a lifelong fan of Notre Dame women’s basketball. “Something Coach Ivey said, that I didn't know if I shouldn't laugh or cry at how she conveyed this, but she said that it was very important to her to have been able to use the position she's been in to raise someone else up the way she was raised up. And so for her, this project meant more to her because of what it did for me. And I just wish I could have jumped through the screen and hugged her for that, because that was very touching.”
Ivey says that her job is to empower women and that she was happy to empower a local Black woman artist. “To bring attention to her work, to kind of put her talent on display and just have a bigger platform for her, I was always really happy to do that."
For Perry, Sunday cannot come soon enough. “I don't know if my heart can take it," she says.
"I'm going to see if I can sit there and actually sit down through the game. I'm just so elated by this.”