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The Interview: Wil Haygood

Author / Journalist / Curator Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in [...]
Kevin J. Elliott



Author / Journalist / Curator

Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in which the Tigers won championships in basketball and baseball 55 days apart, eclipses them all.

“I would never like to be called an activist,” says Wil Haygood when asked if he might consider himself such. “That’s not my game. I’m here just to find a good story. It’s my calling to be objective. I could never just tell one side of the story.”

Yet, in reading his latest book, Tigerland, and immersing the reader in the strife East High faced in the wake of the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the “feel-good” triumph of two championships takes on a higher purpose. There’s so much more to the story. It’s the tale of a segregated city getting its first African-American principal in Jack Gibbs. Of the white basketball coach Bob Hart, choosing to settle in an East side neighborhood he was warned against. The players, and mothers of players, who persevered in the newly developed housing projects despite overwhelming odds. Haygood may not want the title activist, but Tigerland could easily serve as guide in how to counter civil unrest, especially now, fifty years removed.

That objective journalism is becoming more of a rarity is troubling. Haygood’s storytelling is a resistance, and in Tigerland it’s a redemption story brought “from the shadows” that is uniquely complex and distinctly of Columbus. He insists there are many more stories of Tigerland’s ilk which must be exposed. The uncovering of a zeitgeist forgotten is a theme consistent with Haygood’s recent curation of the Harlem Renaissance exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. In I, Too, Sing America (also an award-winning art book), he chose to spotlight lesser-known writers and artists of the era that continue to play “an enduring role in moving us forward.” How that dais influenced the cultural rise of African-Americans in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood where the sub-plots in Tigerland play out, is palpable in Haygood’s words.

In talking with Haygood, he’s acutely aware of how Tigerland’s legacy and the continued re-awakening of the Harlem Renaissance add to the social discourse that accumulates to this day. Our interview here is abridged, if only because we spent a taut 45 minutes veering down rabbit holes created by the vivid representation Haygood paints of Columbus, Ohio in 1968. Fortunately, it’s a conversation that has and could last for generations.

In an interview you talked about Tigerland not being the story “you were born to write, but a story that the rest of the world needed to hear.” Why is this now such an important story?

Wil Haygood: When I traveled around the country, to about 25 different cities talking about this book, people constantly asked me if the release of Tigerland was intentional given how timely the story was. It just happened that it was the 50th anniversary of the famous Olympic protests by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Colin Kaepernick narrative was playing out, the President of the United States was attacking black athletes for their social activism—these were the things on the mind of so many people on this tour. Of course, I didn’t time it, but this story is just so topical, it’s so rich with drama, it just calls for very enlightening conversations with the people I met across the country.

I love it for the locality, and learning about a Columbus I never knew existed. So I’m curious to know if the heroes in this book, Bob Hart (East’s white football coach), Jack Gibbs (East’s first black principal), and the Tiger athletes, have always been heroes in your eyes, especially growing up? Did Columbus, en masse, know the history being made on the East side of town? 

WH: The city was so segregated that it was hard to give the East side its proper due. A figure like Jack Gibbs—he’s someone who you can almost make a movie about his life. It took so much perseverance and so much focus for the student body of East High to do what they did in that 1968-69 calendar year that I thank the literary gods for the foresight to return to my hometown and pull this story together. Frankly I kept waiting for this to be written by someone else, given the amount of high school sports stories that are on the shelf. I’m not trying to rate this story against any of the others, but I do think that it’s a book with a sports theme. It’s also a book that’s about far more than sports.

Was this your favorite book to write?

WH: That’s a tough question, but here’s how I’ll answer. As a little boy, I lived in the North side of the city. When I lived there East High was a mythical place and I had never laid eyes on that school. But I knew about it because it seemed to be this spiritual epicenter of the East side. It was where you had a lot of black teachers, an all-black student body. Your uncles, aunts, and cousins would always be talking about East High School. It constantly grew in my little boy mind. I lived within walking distance of the Ohio State Fairgrounds, so I would always beg my mother to let me go watch the team play. You had to be there. It was a lot wrapped up inside of me as I approached this book, because in a real way I was writing about my heroes. I’m sure that my history and emotions played a part in me wanting to do this book.
What memories do you have of Columbus during that time, that reminds you that no place was isolated from the racial and social unrest of the events of that era?

WH: In the summer of 1968, the very summer of after Martin Luther King’s assassination, my mother moved her five children to the Bolivar Arms housing project. Within weeks of moving there, there were riots on Mt. Vernon [Avenue]. I, as a 13 year old boy, saw National Guard tanks right through my screen door. It was a very frightening summer for me to wrapped up in that racial turmoil. I did not know that urban unrest on the North side of town. That street was integrated, our neighbors were white. Then I was thrust into this community on the East side that was feeling pain—the pain of a lack of good housing, a lack of jobs. The whole environment of urban America was set right outside of my front door.

How much do you think Columbus has progressed since the time of Tigerland in accepting inclusion and fostering growth in underprivileged neighborhoods like the East side?

WH: There has been a lot of maturity and growth in this city. I’m very proud of a lot of things that have happened. There is no big city in this country right now that doesn’t have social problems, but I think Columbus has done a much better job than some cities certainly in creating a peaceful dialogue over the years. I think that there have been stories that haven’t been championed as much as they should have. There is a gap in what the young people of Columbus know about the city’s past. Another fact from the book is that during that school year in 1969, East High sent more kids to college than they ever had before. Those are stories people need to know.

As a teacher of many students who come from broken homes and neighborhoods, I’d love to know what advice you give to young people?

WH: Since the release of the book I’ve spoken to Somali students in St. Paul, Minnesota, to white students in rural Maryland, black students in Dayton, Ohio. I tell students that on their darkest day, on that day when they feel like the world is not loving them enough, that they need only to take inspiration from these East High Tiger athletes. Eight of the twelve basketball players’ mothers worked as maids, many of them did not have fathers living in the home, two of them had fathers in jail, and none of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. But what pushed them and helped them succeed was a championship attitude before they dribbled a basketball or swung a baseball bat. They knew they wanted to be successful. They can lean into this story and they can rise up. Sports is a very gentle way to open the door to talk about poverty, racism, and sexism. You want to hear about how the winners won and how the losers dealt with losing.

Wil Haygood will be the first featured speaker of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Carnegie Author series on Jan. 27th. Register for free at

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The Great Migration




Columbus residents eager to get out of the house find new activities outdoors

The Wooks are migrating. 

Months that are typically spent by one subset of the modern-age hippie—AKA, the Wook—pitching tents in blazing-hot open fields, kaleidoscopic wooded areas, and sometimes even a high-end desert were postponed until 2021 thanks to COVID-19. This left the summer of 2020 void of traveling around the country, chasing live music, and enjoying their youthful exuberance.

It’s not just Wooks, however, but people of all sorts who find themselves stumped for things to do in 2020.

Dave Kuck, with most of his summer 2020 plans canceled, went out and bought a smaller kayak while he waits for a larger one that’s on backorder due to the high demand for outdoor equipment. Before COVID-19 hit, Kuck made a premeditated decision to buy kayaks next summer, but the pandemic pushed his purchase.

Erin Custer, a flight attendant who usually makes last-second decisions to attend festivals because of her job, took to Once Ridden Bikes on Indianola once her stimulus bucks were deposited and bought a bike. The store she chose to patronize was a smart choice, as those within the bike-making industry are saying those wanting to purchase a new bike will most likely have to wait until 2021 due to short supply and high demand.

Tanner Dew would usually be making his bones playing festivals this summer, which made the pandemic even worse for him. But his desire to get out and do something, anything, pushed him to buy a tent, kayak, and a new backpack for the great outdoors.

“I always have camped and grown-up (around) camping but having a free schedule definitely pushed me toward wanting to get outdoors and try new activities like kayaking,” Dew said.

Hopefully the city of Columbus continues to hang out with mother nature far after COVID-19 is part of our memory.

Oh, and if you see a Wook, say hello. They’re friendly creatures.

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Arts & Culture

CCAD grads make good use of their creative edge during Black Lives Matter ‘revolution’




Photos by Rebecca Tien

The bleak isolation of the COVID-19 quarantine caused a mental block for many creatives. But for recent Columbus College of Art and Design graduates and visual artists LaShae Boyd and Kayneisha Holloway, the time and space only helped to enrich their craft.

Their post-grad artistic pursuits were especially sharpened during recent Columbus protests, as thousands of Central Ohioans joined together throughout the month of June to commemorate the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other Black Americans killed by police. The most recent of which was the death of Floyd on May 25, who was killed by excessive force to his throat by Minneapolis, Minn., police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin is charged with second-degree degree, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers on the scene are charged with aiding and abetting.

For both Boyd and Holloway, they hope that the growing Black Lives Matter movement sparked by Floyd’s death translates into further local opportunities for Black visual artists.

With a pop-surrealist focus, Boyd’s paintings are traditionally distorted and shadowy, which she attributes to the theme of chaos. When the pandemic became widespread, Boyd committed her time in quarantine to hold a daily creative process, whether it meant sketching or painting on full canvases. In turn, Boyd executed her goal, tackling more than one piece each day and later painting a mural commissioned by Maroon Arts Group.

“I wanted to represent Black people in a higher light. A lot of my work has to do with spiritual transformation within myself, so I wanted to push this further specifically highlighting black magic and the power we possess as a whole,” Boyd said of creating the mural during protests. “I think we should start taking this energy to neighborhoods of lower classes, the areas with less income and support, and fill it up with art. Art can raise awareness and infuse the community with love and unity.”

In a similar vein, Holloway embarked on taking multiple commissions earlier this year after being furloughed from two positions  during economic turmoil while finishing her degree. The multi-dimensional artist and interior architect caught up on meditating and reading to decompress from the heaviness of the pandemic. Once revived, she set off to the Greater Columbus Arts Council, where she was joined by other visual artists who encouraged her to share her thoughts on Floyd’s murder. 

“The word ‘empathy’ came to mind; that’s the only word I could think of since the first night of protests in Minneapolis,” Holloway said, later creating murals at Snap Fitness on Hubbard Avenue and the Huntington Center. “The silver lining is that this revolution is pushing me to become a full-time freelance artist, even [an] activist, which I would like to embrace more.”

Photos by Rebecca Tien

Prior to completing their studies at CCAD, Boyd and Holloway’s senior thesis seemed to foreshadow the current social climate in proximity to their core audience, even expanding their message to local government officials. Though Boyd initially lacked confidence, which transmuted into her work as a student, she soon transformed through her thesis titled “Out of Control,” previously showcased at Beeler Gallery on the CCAD campus. 

“It was a group of paintings and photos on the topic of finding self through the unconscious, using dreams as a guide back to repressed memories and personal truth,” she said. “With everything going on, it’s elevated my understanding of my position as an artist in society. I started thinking about how art not only is a great way to communicate difficult emotions but it’s literally like a time machine that you can explore.”

Art can raise awareness and infuse the community with love and unity.

Being a first generation college graduate, Holloway’s thesis analyzed the consumption of public art through murals and placemaking implemented into Columbus neighborhoods. Though she worked solo as classes went remote due to the quarantine, she attributes her pride as a muralist to studying interior design and architecture during those four years.

Photos by Rebecca Tien

“I did feel relieved to not have to worry about submitting an assignment online, but I didn’t feel I accomplished much outside of my grades and received my diploma through mail,” she said. “Attending classes remotely set my creativity and drive back a little because I liked the environment I was working in. I especially miss doing ceramics, which is impossible to do remotely when your art studio is also your bedroom, laptop, or phone.”

Still, Holloway was able to put finishing touches on her thesis dedicated to revolutionary artists who have used their proximity to local people to acknowledge and create space for those who have been disadvantaged. Those who inspired Holloway’s work included Stephanie Rond, Rick Lowe, Tyree Guyton and Aminah Robinson—whom she painted at the Ohio State Rotunda.

“On a community level, I hope every person as a whole will acknowledge themselves as worthy of living, and simultaneously will view their community members’ lives as worthy, without the role of police officers and authorities,” Holloway said. “On a political and economic level, I hope that our politicians, city council members, and city planners will acknowledge that Black people, regardless of class, lives matter; their health matters, their education matters, their neighborhoods and homes matter, and their safety and security matters.”

Disappointed when being unable to walk the stage at graduation due to social distancing, Boyd celebrated safely at home and hopes that recent community art pushes collective exposure for Black women.

“I hope that we can see the reasons why murals are so important outside of the aftermath of the rioting that was going on,” she said. “I want to make pieces speaking on what’s happening, keeping in mind that this is a piece of history [that] future generations can look back on and learn some of the events that structured their present.”

Noting the magnitude of male artists in Columbus, Holloway obliges with Boyd’s sentiment, aiming for Black women artists to receive their roses while they can still smell them.

Photos by Rebecca Tien

“We need to embrace change and differences—I haven’t seen many Black women artists being celebrated as much who are still living,” she said. “I think allowing Black women the space to develop their voices as well as express their voices and concerns is a step to support Black women and artists, even if their message is very different from what we normally hear and see.”

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The Mid-Ohio Food Bank is accepting volunteers once again




Photo provided by Mid-Ohio Food Bank.

The Mid-Ohio Food Bank needs your help.

The Ohio National Guard was assisting the Grove City location during COVID, but will end its help Aug. 7. At that time, the Food Bank is going to need your able body to volunteer again.

“As of August 1, we plan to bring volunteers back into our Grove City facility in order to maintain the levels of service and production necessary to serve those in need,” said Elizabeth Garrabrant, director of volunteer services at the MOFB. 

Due to COVID-19, the Food Bank wasn’t able to have volunteers. Now, with safety precautions in place, volunteers will be allowed back at the Food Bank if they wear a mask while working and when around others.

You can sign up yourself or in a group by clicking here. Small-sized groups up to 12, medium-sized groups up to 25, and large-sized groups up to 40 will be permitted to sign up.

The MOFB typically has over 700 open volunteer slots a week at its Grove City facility alone. Volunteer slots last anywhere from two to four hours long. The Mid Ohio Food Bank is part of the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, which is also comprised of the Mid-Ohio Farm, the Mid-Ohio Farmacy, the Mid-Ohio Market, and the Mid-Ohio Kitchen. For more information visit the website here.

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