Memories is what makes or breaks

A past that determines future

Defines the character of state

Numerous times of epic Adventures

Time, the importance of all essences

entering into this works of sin

you determine what makes inception

cry over my shoulder and we can begin

-unknown

 

 

His classmates called him “strange” and “faggot.”

He thought maybe, the bullies hated the way he dressed or envied his intelligence.

Either way, Myja White felt like an outsider.

He was 9 years old and in fourth grade. In the last months of 2009, he had already dealt with a lot.

His parents’ divorce. Splitting time between his dad’s home in Terre Haute, Ind., where Myja had spent his entire life, and his mom’s new house, an hour away in Indianapolis. Giving up his family’s two bull mastiffs when they became too much for his mom to handle. Transferring schools.

The name calling only added to it all.

He didn’t know how to deal with the vitriol hurled towards him, so he denied himself and the world his defining trait. His creativity.

He bottled himself up.

Myja flashes a rare toothy grin at basketball practice. Bo Brueck – Asst. Photo Editor.

 

***

Last summer, Myja White found himself alone in the basement of Millett Hall.

At six-foot-one, the freshman guard stands taller than the average person but looks short compared to many of his RedHawk teammates. As part of his practice regimen, Myja works out a few times a week, and it shows. He sports a chiseled physique, complete with veins protruding down the length of both arms. He occasionally flashes a toothy grin, but most of the time, his smile appears in only the lips, coming and going without a glimpse of his teeth. His thin black mustache attaches to a well-groomed goatee and makes him look 25, not 18.

His first semester of classes hadn’t started, but he already felt comfortable in Oxford. It reminded him of Terre Haute — the place he called his “comfort zone.”

Most students were weeks away from returning to Miami for the fall semester, but Myja and his teammates moved into their North Quad residence halls nearly two months earlier on June 17.

On this particular midsummer Sunday, Myja finished team-mandated study tables early and wanted some quiet time.

After venturing down the hall and into the men’s basketball locker room, he sat down and started writing a poem.

He’d begun creating his own poetry earlier in the summer after being inspired by one of his other passions, music.

“I was listening to a classical piano song,” Myja said. “I was just really listening to it and felt the words. I felt what I was feeling in this music and just started jotting it down. And I just thought, ‘Hey, maybe I should try out poetry.’”

The tandem of music and compositions blossomed immediately. Listening to eight hours of tunes a day makes the words come easy, he said.

After discovering his new hobby over the summer, Myja went all in.

He declared an English literature minor to go along with his psychology major.

“I also wanted to add something to the psychology part [of my studies] for people who don’t know how to express themselves verbally, but can do it nonverbally through art, dance, poetry, music, instruments, just any way you can,” Myja said.

Because of the insults he endured as a kid, Myja doesn’t feel comfortable expressing himself in conversation with most people. He dreams of opening up his own psychology practice to help children like his younger self.

“There are also people out there who don’t know how to express themselves face-to-face, but they can through a picture,” Myja said. “I just thought I could add something to that for people in the world like me, who need someone in the world who can understand them or feel like they are wanted.”

In the United States, more than 5,400 seventh-twelfth graders attempt suicide every day, according to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children. Many of those cases originate from kids being bullied by their peers or simply feeling unwanted and unloved.

Many studies have been conducted, saying hobbies can help with this. The tests concluded frequently engaging in enjoyable activities can lessen stress and risks of depression, according to the Australian Government Department of Health.

Myja considers himself lucky. While his bullying didn’t cause him to be suicidal, he hid his creativity for a while. Because of loved ones and releases like basketball and poetry, it’s back and out in full force.

“I’ve witnessed Myja write a lot of poetry in the past few weeks,” said Mekhi Lairy, Myja’s roommate and teammate, in early December. “Maybe it’s because of finals coming up … He’s usually at his desk with his headphones in, playing an instrumental of some sort – usually jazz or something like that. He’s just typing his poem.”

Lairy, who played against Myja in high school, said he likes living with Myja. Myja always keeps the room interesting.

“Original,” Lairy said when asked to describe his roommate in one word.

“Myja’s a cool guy,” Lairy said. “You never know what to expect from him. One day, he’s chill, relaxed, tired, and the next day, he’s up late-night, 1 o’clock in the morning, yelling. He just yells to be yelling. Whether it’s parts from cartoon shows, TV shows, he’s yelling.”

Regardless of what he says, Lairy can’t claim innocence in this tomfoolery. The pair frequently engages in Fortnite battles, playing Xbox hours past their bedtimes.

Myja’s uniqueness isn’t confined to his residence hall.

Even back in elementary school, he loved stylish clothes and looking good. Back then, his bullies picked on him for it.

“I was being called ‘gay’ for the way I dressed,” Myja said. “I didn’t even dress like someone who’d be called that.”

Now, Myja rocks his outfits with confidence and pride.

“He probably has the most Vans out of any person I know,” Lairy said. “I thought I liked Vans, but he has a lot more than I do.”

Lairy has six pairs of the sneakers. Myja’s collection includes over 20. His favorite: Low-cut, pink velvet Vans.

‘They’re pretty nice,” Myja said, looking down with a slight grin.

He even owns a pair of Vans flip-flops.

When Myja gets dressed, he typically throws on a shirt that matches that day’s shoes, along with skinny jeans and a jean jacket. Maybe a reversible snapback hat, too, depending on how his short, black hair looks.

He’s also started putting his poetry out for the world to see.

Last October, Myja launched “Love of Creation” (@CreationLoveand), a Twitter page dedicated to his writing.

He updates the account daily and has posted 64 tweets since its establishment. It’s attracted 31 followers, several of whom are Miami athletes.

Other than noticing his personal Twitter profile listed in Love of Creation’s description, no one could tell who authored these poems.

“I’m not a person who likes to be acknowledged a lot,” Myja said. “I don’t really tell people about it. So when I write poems, at the end, I write ‘unknown,’ so they don’t know who’s writing it.”

He felt unknown for so long. Now, when given the choice, he prefers it.

***

A day before his first collegiate basketball game in early November, Myja positioned himself on the leather couch in Miami coach Jack Owens’ office. He’d been called in for an unscheduled meeting on an unannounced subject — a situation where no athlete feels comfortable.

He faced Owens, who was sitting behind his dark-stained wooden desk, and looked his coach directly in the eyes.

Myja’s always tried to be a respectful person. Other kids labeled him a “teacher’s pet” in elementary school because of how he treated his elders.

“He’s just a great guy,” Owens said. “He’s what our program is going to be about. Guys with substance, who love basketball and work at it. Good guy, good student.”

Even now, Myja follows orders without question.

While being interviewed in early December, Myja spotted assistant coach J.R. Reynolds walking past. Reynolds messed with Myja for a moment, saying, “Oh, Myja’s getting interviewed? He’s big time now. I want a shout out.”

Myja immediately turned back around and said, “Shout out Coach J.R.”

He tried to show Owens the same reverence while meeting with him.

Owens talked with Myja about the freshman’s summer development. Myja got sick shortly after moving to Oxford in June and fell behind his other teammates on the court. Because of this, Owens told Myja he thought extra preparation time would be beneficial.

Myja had two options.

First, he could ride the bench for most of his freshman year and receive little playing time.

Or, the coach said, he could redshirt, meaning he would sit out the season and retain a year of collegiate athletic eligibility before joining the team’s regular rotation in the fall of 2019.

Owens gave Myja a night to ponder it. The next day, Myja told his coach he thought it would be best to redshirt.

“I didn’t really take it hard at all,” Myja said. “In fact, I kind of see it as a blessing because I plan to have a [bachelor’s] degree, and I want to get my master’s [degree]. So, I feel like this [extra year of studies] is an advantage for me.”

Secure in his decision, he chose not to write any poetry about it. He felt at peace.

He will stay on scholarship during that fifth year.

The new role transformed Myja into an 18-year-old assistant coach.

“I encourage our players,” Myja said. “I push them. I correct them if they’re wrong. Also, it gives me more of an understanding of what coaches are talking about when they talk to us or get on us. And I feel like now I can understand that. I can’t trip or complain if a coach gets on me for an issue.”

In other words, he’s forced to open up and make his presence known.

Owens noticed this development and wants it to continue.

“I’m pushing him to become a vocal leader because he’s a guy who works hard,” Owens said. “He knows what’s going on. I truly believe he’s going to be a leader of this team in some capacity because of how he works and goes about his business.

“He could be one of the better players in our league (Mid-American Conference) when he’s older,” Owens said. “That’s how I visualize him. He’s got a chance to be a really good player.”

Myja holds his follow-through after shooting a 3-pointer at basketball practice. Bo Brueck – Asst. Photo Editor.

 

***

It’s November 14, four days after Miami’s season-opening loss at Butler University, and Myja is frustrated. He sits quietly in Benton Hall.

In the midst of a conflict with a close friend, he feels misunderstood. All he asked for was patience, but he wasn’t receiving it.

He’s 18 years old and in his first semester of college. In the last few months, he’s already dealt with a lot.

Moving away from home. Training and competing against the best basketball players he’d ever faced. Starting the rigorous course load of college. Being redshirted.

The disagreement with his friend only adds to it all.

Myja remains calm. He knows how to handle his rush of emotions.

He opens his laptop and begins writing a poem.

 

wait for me by the moonlight

don’t give up on me

I’m trying my hardest to not

lose sight

I wish you could only see

walk in my shoes

it’ll help us breathe

-Unknown

 

vinelca@miamioh.edu

@ChrisAVinel

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