Image courtesy of Kaiya McCullough
Anti Racist Soccer Club
Kaiya McCullough is the Chairwoman and Co-Founder of the Anti Racist Soccer Club, who spoke at USL HQ's Winter Summit in December of 2021. The ARSC was founded by USL's AFC Ann Arbor Chair Bilal Saeed along with current and former USL players Hugh Roberts and Brandon Miller and McCullough. In addition to her work with the ARSC, McCullough is a former professional soccer player, activist, Project Manager at Common Goal and Athlete Ally Ambassador.
Some people dream their whole lives of being a professional soccer player. I wish I could tell you that dream was always the case for me too, that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, but I'd be lying. The opportunity to step on the field at the highest level meant a lot to me – but it was never my end goal.
I think it was a little difficult for my family to come to terms with the fact that my path forward wasn't soccer. But after seeing the impact that I had off the field, they understood that my heart lay elsewhere. It yearned towards making a difference in the world.
How I can best accomplish that is still being shaped. I’m constantly growing and evolving as a person, and my understanding of the world around me changes every day. But my end goal remains the same: I want to be a changemaker. That's how I want to be remembered.
When I look back, my activism started when I began kneeling in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick in 2017. It was my sophomore season at UCLA, and I was only 19 years old. I was scared and still had a lot to learn, but I had the full support of my coaches, teammates, and administrators. I recognize now that support was an anomaly in our modern day socio-political landscape.
Image courtesy of Kaiya McCullough
Once kneeling opened my eyes to the power of my voice, I truly embraced my ability to affect change. It was an inflection point for me. I continued educating myself more on the issues that I cared about, even switching my college major from STEM to political science. I was seeking resources, mentorship, and knowledge relentlessly, especially when it came to the pursuit of racial justice.
I was drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League in January 2020. Not soon after, I packed up my entire life and moved to the Washington D.C. area. This new challenge excited me, and the idea of being a professional soccer player filled me with pride. But this new journey didn’t change my ultimate aspirations in the slightest. I still wanted to use and grow my platform to advocate for the causes that were important to me. I wanted to continue what I started as a college player. Little did I know, I would gain an even bigger opportunity to do so.
My newfound platform came with its challenges. Challenges that, when combined with the consequences of 2020 as a whole, contributed to my decision to retire from the game and pursue my passion for social justice. The self-reflection, isolation, and heartbreak that the pandemic brought really forced me to consider if soccer was still something that gave me joy. It wasn’t. I was broken in a lot of ways from the sport that had been there for me my entire life.
With big realizations come big changes. Not soon after my decision to retire, I shifted my perspective toward the possibilities that lay off the field for me. I realized the next chapter in my book was law school, and began studying and applying to programs across the country.
My eagerness to study hard, become a better me, and heal my trauma surrounding soccer carried me through the pain that came with retirement. Using my voice to help others mended my own wounds, and guided me towards the start of my future. I began to envision prosperity for myself and others once again. My activism saved my life.
Retiring from soccer meant reorienting around how to best leverage my platform. If I wasn’t a soccer player, then who was I, really? Would people even care what I had to say? Even if they didn’t, I turned to Twitter, preaching into the void of the internet. And somehow, people were actually listening.
As my message started getting louder and going further, I felt like my voice was starting to have a legitimate impact. Like a self-perpetuating cycle, my platform grew, then my voice grew, and so on. I started gaining followers and feeling the power of a collective force. I still try to use my own power to inspire others to speak out when they see injustice in the world around them. If I can do it, so can anybody else.
Today, I use my time towards direct action. I am currently the Chairwoman of Anti-Racist Soccer Club, a non-profit focused on eradicating racism from the American soccer landscape. Our mission is to create a coalition of organizations and individuals that utilize their collective power against racism in the game. I'm also a Program Manager for Common Goal’s Anti-Racist Project, where I’m working to create comprehensive anti-racist curriculums to educate individuals across all levels of the sport. I’ve also been accepted to law school, and I’m in the process of deciding where I’ll attend. I hope to use my time in school to learn about the systems of oppression we exist in, and use my J.D. to tear them down.
I want to be remembered as somebody who dedicated herself to making the world a better place. That may sound cliche, and it is. However, I truly believe that if I can leave the world better than it was when I came into it, I will have achieved my life’s purpose.
Though my work is important, I draw inspiration from the politicians, teachers, athletes, scientists, and everyday people, both past and present, who are pursuing justice for the Black community. There are so many Black individuals affecting positive change in their respective spaces, not only for the Black community, but also for the world, and I am in awe of all of them. Despite the odds, Black Americans have created, loved, and excelled in a country designed to see us fail. I hope I can inspire the next generation of activists to continue our progress.
As I write this article, it’s cool to realize that even the small impact I've had on the universe has been a part of moving history forward. With Black History Month, we have an opportunity to reflect on and reconnect with our past and look towards the future.
I am Black history. I will be Black history. My children after me will be Black history and their children after them will be Black history. We will be changemakers.