Tarasai Karega '09; A True Impact Player
By Alex Kantor, Sports Information Director
In 1994, The Black Men of Greater Springfield opened the W.E.B. DuBois Academy as a way to provide positive experiences and activities to young African-American boys in western Massachusetts. Their mission was to “bring together people who share common goals of fostering excellence, improve the quality of life and maximize the potential of African-American youth.”
The Academy’s mission statement reads like a billboard for the successes of Amherst College senior Tarasai Karega. Growing up in Detroit, Karega was an elite ice hockey player who faced plenty of hardships as an African-American girl breaking into a predominately white, male sport. Karega has become involved with the W.E.B. DuBois Academy this year after being introduced to the organization by Assistant Athletic Director Bill McBride. Her main goal is to encourage young men to set high goals despite difficult barriers.
In the past, both Karega and her parents were confronted by people who did not want to see her playing hockey. She explains that she has had to be “strong in dealing with people who tell me that I shouldn’t play hockey because I am black, and people who verbally attack my parents after hockey games.”
Many people would be broken down emotionally and mentally by such prejudice, but Karega has used others’ negativity to power her personal growth. With views wise beyond that of most college-aged students, Karega explains that “these are the people who inhabit the world we live in, and we have to learn how to deal with them.”
It is Karega’s strong attitude and will that has helped her grow into a success story that will inspire those around her for years to come. Prior to Amherst, Karega attended the prestigious Cranbrook-Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and was a four-year ice hockey standout. She was named to the All-State Team in each of her four seasons, and led the team to a pair of State Championships. After scoring the game-winning goal in double-overtime of the State Championship during her senior season, Karega was named the state’s Ms. Hockey, as the best overall player in Michigan.
Karega exploded onto the Amherst hockey scene in the winter of 2005-06 with the help of head coach Jim Plumer. As a first-year, she scored 16 goals and dished out five assists while playing in 24 of the team’s 25 games. The following year, Karega and the Lord Jeffs burst onto the national scene as she scored 20 goals with 17 assists to lead Amherst in scoring. The team won a program-high 20 games in both her sophomore and junior seasons and won back-to-back NESCAC Championships, going to the NCAA Tournament both years.
Plumer shares that “it’s been rewarding watching Tarasai grow during the last three years, both on and off the ice. She’s worked very hard to not let race get in the way of her ability to make an impact – and she brings her unique personality to our team and has made an impact in the locker room and on the ice.” Beyond that, he says, “it’s particularly satisfying to see her take the initiative to use her experience to help others. Her success at Amherst and in the Springfield community is certainly something to celebrate and is really a testament to her growth as a person.”
As a double-major in black studies and sociology, Karega has fostered her interests both academically and in the community. In addition to registering a 3.58 grade-point-average at one of the nation’s finest academic institutions, Karega has made a pair of presentations to the Springfield youth this fall.
One of her presentations was based on her experiences growing up, and the importance of education and working hard across all segments of your life. Her second engagement was based around building good relationships across many different groups. She spoke about how to handle peers, coaches, teachers and parents, while also fielding questions about how to cope with negative feedback from others. Karega relishes the opportunities to share her story with those around her, and has increasingly made this part of her life.
“I am so blessed in everything that I do, and every chapter of my life has taught me about the importance of giving back,” Karega says. “I’m surrounded by great people, family and friends, and I have the basic necessities of life and more. I’m able to participate in one of the things I love to do most, and not only do I attend college, but I attend Amherst, which is one of the top educational institutions in the country.” She adds that “there are people in this world who don’t have one of the aforementioned privileges. Giving back is providing people with opportunities to have some of those privileges.”
Karega explains that, recently, she has been inspired by a song from one of her favorite artists. The words strength, courage and wisdom come from an India Arie song and have influenced Karega to adopt the philosophy as a personal motto. Not only are these characteristics that she strives for, but they are also the cornerstones of her volunteer work at the W.E.B. DuBois Academy.
“These are qualities that every person should have,” she believes, “and it is so important for our youth to know this.” She adds that the children she works with “have their entire futures ahead of them, and they will be faced with many of the same obstacles I have seen. The major motivation behind my work with youth is the desire to prevent them from making mistakes that I have made. I want them to be wiser and stronger.”
Karega has a passion for excellence, and the desire to help pass that drive on to the next generation has everyone around her in awe.
Read more about Tarasai Karega ’09, and other Amherst student-athletes we expect to have breakout seasons, in the November issue of Amherst magazine.