During Black History Month, we wanted to profile a few black Lions who have not only made major contributions to the club on and off the pitch, but continue to make a huge impact in the rugby community at large. We wanted to let their voices and experiences be heard so we can learn from them, and hopefully continue opening up the sport we love to communities of color.

For over 30 years, the Village Lions have prided themselves on being one of the most competitive, inclusive, and diverse rugby clubs, not only in New York City, but in the entire country. 

During Black History Month, we wanted to profile a few black Lions who have not only made major contributions to the club on and off the pitch, but continue to make a huge impact in the rugby community at large. We wanted to let their voices and experiences be heard so we can learn from them, and hopefully continue opening up the sport we love to communities of color.

If you told me I would be playing rugby as a child 1980’s and 90’s Harlem it was unfathomable.

Kimo

Name: Kimani Tahir Davis (Kimo)

Main Position: Second Row and Center

Years with the club: 16 years

Years playing rugby: 20

Alma Mater: Bard

Past clubs you’ve played for: Albany Knicks, Linwood, ROOTS (Current)

Awards or Special recognition you’ve received: 16th Man (Village Lions given by Coach Joe Finnern)

Profession: Founder of MADE and Dean of School Culture School of School in the Square Washington

How do you think being a black has shaped your experience as a rugby player? Have your experiences been positive or negative?

If you told me I would be playing rugby as a child 1980’s and 90’s Harlem it was unfathomable. I had the blessing of being a founder of my college’s rugby team in 1995, even though I had no prior rugby experience, I almost gave up playing basketball for my school for rugby. My basketball coach told me I wasn’t allowed to play if I continued to play rugby. My response “Cool..so cut me”. Two years later I left my school’s team basketball because basketball got in the way of rugby.

The more challenging aspect has been the stereotype that I have faced while playing the sport in my early years. Select sides or teams saw a 6’2 220 plus black man and assumed that I was a center, a flanker or put me on the wing. Never realizing I have experience as a fullback and flyhalf.

Kimo

I would say that my experiences with rugby have been overwhelmingly positive. There have been times that I have heard some negative comments from opponents while on the pitch. The more challenging aspect has been the stereotype that I have faced while playing the sport in my early years. Select sides or teams saw a 6’2 220 plus black man and assumed that I was a center, a flanker or put me on the wing. Never realizing I have experience as a fullback and flyhalf. I never insisted on playing those positions but, when we would run drills in practice there have been instances in which coaches would be like “wait a minute.” Then would try to move me and I would be like “Nah, I’m good.”

During Black History Month, we wanted to profile a few black Lions who have not only made major contributions to the club on and off the pitch, but continue to make a huge impact in the rugby community at large. We wanted to let their voices and experiences be heard so we can learn from them, and hopefully continue opening up the sport we love to communities of color.

I have met so many lifelong friends, I met my wife Kathleen because of rugby, my best man Larry Ffrench and new family ROOTS because of rugby. My mom went through a stretch where she attended Friends and Family Day for 5 consecutive years with the Village Lions. When she passed away in 2014 close to 100 Lions showed up to her memorial celebration at Dorian Grays. That was a defining moment for me.

I feel like the connections I have made with many non-Black players provided a brave space to have honest conversations. Many of these conversations have been about race which has often been enlightening for all parties involved. 

Rugby has inspired MADE – My Actions Defy Expectations – a fitness and community movement that inspires using what you have to evolve your mental and physical being. The movement started with me alone and then a handful of Lions and community members. It’s humbling to see what it’s becoming. Thank you, Larry, Dez, Oscar, Cat, Austin, Tim Rossi. The First Generation. 

ROOTS is a dream we see unfolding in front of us. On a cold November Saturday in 2018. I stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the best rugby talents I have known, seen or heard about. This ranged from founders to players and coaches. Now traveling the world and looking to work with communities both for rugby and in general. To be a part of this and help to create will hopefully inspire change and embrace what is needed to “Grow the sport”. I can write chapters about ROOTS who we are etc…our story is just beginning and want you to embark on the journey with us. 

Yes, rugby is more diverse than when I started playing but is the approach effectively inclusive? You can have 15 diverse players on the pitch who love practicing and playing, but off the pitch do they feel understood, supported and if so do they truly feel empowered to help others as well as themselves?

Kimo

Do you believe that rugby is becoming more or less diverse? What are some positive outcomes you can think of by making rugby more diverse and inclusive?

We keep hearing “Grow the sport”, it drives me nuts. I won’t hold my tongue on this topic. Growing the sport isn’t academies, select sides and introducing programs into schools. It has to be organic, especially within the black community. Kids are being cherry-picked from programs because they are “good kids,” who are “good athletes.” We cannot have rugby to look at as an occupation in the black community. In order for rugby to reach its full potential, you have to not just understand but EMBRACE the culture and the communities you are engaging in. The values, hardship, celebrations, religions, rituals, etc… There are a lot of players and supporters within communities who reflect kids and young players.  Programs should partner with parents, store owners, reverends community leaders, etc.. Whether aware or not, there is a savior mentality with many programs that isn’t beneficial to anyone. 

We keep hearing “Grow the sport” … Growing the sport isn’t academies, select sides and introducing programs into schools. It has to be organic, especially within the black community … In order for rugby to reach its full potential, you have to not just understand but EMBRACE the culture and the communities you are engaging in. The values, hardship, celebrations, religions, rituals, etc. There are a lot of players and supporters within communities who reflect kids and young players.  Programs should partner with parents, store owners, reverends, community leaders, etc. Whether aware or not, there is a savior mentality with many programs that isn’t beneficial to anyone.

Kimo

Yes, rugby is more diverse than when I started playing but is the approach effectively inclusive? You can have 15 diverse players on the pitch who love practicing and playing, but off the pitch do they feel understood, supported and if so do they truly feel empowered to help others as well as themselves? 

ROOTS is a dream I see unfolding in front of me. I can write an entire story of our origin but to sum it up. On a cold November Saturday in 2018. I stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the best rugby talents I have known, seen or heard about. This was past present and future. To be part of is and help to create will hopefully inspire change and embrace what is needed to “Grow the sport”,

The Village Lions prides itself on being a diverse and inclusive club. Has this always been your experience with the Lions? If not, how have things changed over the years?

The Lions have always been supportive and welcoming individuals from all backgrounds. When I first started with the Lions and for years to follow, we were the most diverse club in NYC in my opinion. I value this because the club were looking for good people who played rugby, not athletes to bolster the club. I think the club is in a state where we have to find the balance. I definitely feel like we are in a state of not compromising what we have always stood for but trying to rise in the ranks of competitive play. Even though we are in transition I love that we stick to our founding beliefs. Thank you Alan Whelan for making the Village Lions an option.