RYAN REEBENACKER, TRUMPET SPORTS EDITOR
Marcus Newsom is a proud Black man.
He was raised in poverty and violence in Kansas City, Kansas. His father, a Black Vietnam War veteran, was a member of the Black Panther Party. He and his wife Stephanie have three sons, Mosai, Asa and Che’, and have always taught them to be proud of their heritage, both Black and German.
For the past 22 years, Newsom has been the head track and field coach for Wartburg College, and for many of them he has been the only Black head coach in the American Rivers Conference, he said.
For the 60-time conference champion between Indoor and Outdoor Men’s and Women’s Track and Field, the civil unrest he witnessed across the United States this summer has been hard, but not unfamiliar.
“I am so incredibly grateful for the way I was raised,” Newsom said. “To the point where this summer, seeing all the things that have been happening – we were raised from a spiritual foundation of not allowing ourselves to hate or place blame. To believe ‘We’re not going to do what others do to us.’”
KANSAS CITY ROOTS
“I was raised to be aware of who I was,” Newsom said of his childhood. “I was raised to be really proud of who I am, as a Black boy, a Black man, and I was always taught my history.”
Newsom grew up on Seventh Street, in the “heart” of Kansas City in the 1970s.
“Because of the segregation of schools, I was bussed all the way out to 59th Street to go to school,” Newsom said. “Now just think about that. I had to pass four public schools to get to the school that I attended.”
Faith played a prominent role in Newsom’s household as a child. Both his mother and grandmother were women of faith, something Newsom says he values to this day. His grandmother was a Black woman from the South, and Newsom describes her upbringing as one full of “discrimination that they had to endure.”
“I had heard my grandmother say when I was little that she had seen so much hate, that she was never going to hate. She knew the impact of what hate meant,” Newsom said.
During Newsom’s sophomore year of college, “Boyz N The Hood” was released, a film which Newsom credits for opening up the dialogue of inner-city culture and the effect that it had on Black and Brown families.
“I can remember at home we had a day of dialogue about the movie,” Newsom said. “And I remember making a comment to my aunt, I said, ‘I am so tired educating – right – and trying to educate and explain what it means to be Black and to be a Black man.’ And my grandmother responded, ‘What did you just say?’
“And you got to understand, I come from a huge family, my grandmother had eight children. I had lots of aunts and uncles and cousins and all of them got quiet. And she told me to come sit next to her, and she said to me ‘You don’t have any time to be tired. It is your job to teach, your job to educate those who don’t know what it’s like, or don’t know what you’re experiencing every day, because if not you how else would they know? So I don’t ever want to hear you say you’re tired, because if I would have got tired, or your mother got tired, or your other ancestors got tired, we wouldn’t be where we are today. So it is your job to educate, even in times where it brings you to your knees.’”
Newsom’s grandmother was involved in the civil rights movement, as were many members of his family, and would always say that the goal was “equality for all of God’s children.” Those family ties were the same that influenced Newsom to call his mother after the death of George Floyd in May.
“I think of this summer, reflecting on my history, and me calling my mother,” Newsom said. “Having a conversation with her, and hearing in her voice of that pain was very hard for me. That pain was more of still to this day a concern about her son, but also a concern for her grandchildren who are being raised in Northeast Iowa – who look very different than the majority in their classrooms or on their teams. And she said to me, ‘God will carry us through these times as he has in the past.’”
‘WARTBURG TRACK AND FIELD IS DIVERSITY’
Newsom has been the head track and field coach at Wartburg College for 22 years and previously served as an assistant track and field and football coach for five. He has been the only minority head coach at the school for all 22 years, and for some he has been the lone minority head coach in Wartburg’s athletic conference.
“That comes with a lot of responsibility,” Newsom said. “I knew that when I became the head coach. Some people think it comes with a burden of responsibility, but I don’t see it that way. It comes with the responsibility of representing your whole race. How you carry yourself and conduct yourself is watched closely – let’s just be honest, you have a different standard as a minority head coach.”
Newsom has always seen his position at Wartburg as an opportunity to “pave the way” for the next minority head coach. He said he has always seen the city of Waverly, which is 91.8% white, according to iowa-demographics.com, as a place with opportunity for growth. And for a man focused on raising his children in the safest environment possible, he has relied on that growth.
“Any time you have a college or university in a town, it becomes a source of growth,” Newsom said. “The experiences that Wartburg students bring, and the students of color bring, I believe really open the door for the community to embrace those experiences and become more welcoming to different types of people.”
Newsom’s partnership with Wartburg College has resulted in numerous accolades. He has coached 36 individual national champions, 578 indoor and outdoor All-American performances, and has collected eight national titles on the women’s side.
For all of his success, Newsom said he has made it a point to keep Wartburg Track and Field one of the most racially diverse rosters in the conference.
“I don’t believe that you can get a complete education without having diversity being a part of that process,” Newsom said. “[After a vigil held this summer following the death of George Floyd] I had an alumni who graduated 12 years ago send me a text that said, ‘Coach Newsom, Wartburg track and field is diversity and inclusion.’ And I looked at that text, and I just teared up. It’s almost like I needed to get that text. Powerful.”
The 2020 men’s and women’s teams had approximately 20 people of color.
After the death of George Floyd, Newsom received a “firestorm” of texts and emails from alumni, both white and minority, which prompted his wife, Stephanie, to tell him, “You are making a change in many of the kids’ lives that you’ve coached.”
“My mother has always talked about making sure that the work that we do is work that is impacting lives for a lifetime,” Newsom said. “Make sure you’re doing what you’re called to do.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to leave Waverly and take major Division-I jobs. The success that we’ve had has opened that door. Wartburg College is a liberal arts college, that means we educate our students with a holistic academic experience. Well, that’s what diversity does. One of the things I always say in the recruiting process is that I want you to be able to have teammates that look different than you, but the experience and the growth together from what we all will learn together is what you will carry with you forever.”
Newsom said he does not want colleges to work to make more minority hires due to the racial tension that opened up in America this summer. “It should already have been time,” he said.
“When we have that diversity statement, we should already have been following through by our actions,” Newsom said. “Every institution in our country that claims to be in support of diversity should already have been following through. I am committed to making sure that every student that I coach is in a diverse environment. If you say you are committed, are you following through with that commitment?”
‘I HOPE IT INSPIRES THEM’
“I want to be honest with you, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Newsom said. “Eight national championships. When I reflected back on it all this summer I told my wife, ‘The one thing,’ and I say this with a lot of emotion, ‘The one thing that I’m going to do if the Lord allows me to win another national championship is that I’m going to enjoy it.’”
When Newsom reflects on his life, his roots in the civil rights movement and his legacy as a coach and father, he hopes that others take one thing from him: inspiration.
“I grew up in the inner city, on the streets of Kansas,” Newsom said. “I grew up in poverty. I grew up in violence. I hope that it inspires them, that representation of seeing a Black man. And I would hope that all of my student athletes can take pride in the man that I am. The man, the coach, the dad, the husband as well as the Black man that I am.”