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A family history explored: Bianca Belair discusses her influential ancestors
NXT fans are beginning to become familiar with Bianca Belair’s power inside the ring, but it’s not just her competitive nature that drives Belair to be The EST of NXT. The NXT Superstar also finds motivation in her family tree, having come from a long line of trailblazers, including men and women who helped break new ground during the Civil Rights Movement. In celebration of Black History Month, Belair spoke to WWE.com about her remarkable family history and how it continues to inspire her to this day.
WWE.COM: What does Black History Month mean to you?
BIANCA BELAIR: Black History Month is a time to celebrate, learn, acknowledge and pay tribute to African Americans’ past, present, culture, struggles and achievements. It has always been an important aspect in my life growing up because it taught me my roots. Black History Month also reminds me of how far we have come, and it motivates me. If African Americans can win the Olympics, desegregate public places, become artists, authors, doctors and engineers, contribute to agriculture, mathematics, astronomy and medicine, invent hot combs and haircare products, traffic lights, and become President, then I can do it, too. If they could create history, then so can I.
WWE.COM: Let’s talk about your family history. I understand that your family tree is chock full of groundbreakers in the African American community.
BELAIR: My great-grandfather, Edward N. Toole, was the first licensed African American electrician in Durham, N.C.; he was still a licensed and practicing electrician in 1993 at the age of 95. His father was also the son of the governor of South Carolina.
My grandfather is Edward G. High, and he had a career in biochemistry and nutrition after receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, master’s degree in organic chemistry, and a doctoral degree in biological chemistry. He was a professor and chairman of biochemistry at Meharry Medical College, and he was the first black president of the Alumni Association Board at Indiana University. He was also the leader in the establishment of the Neal-Marshall Club, which was a group that was organized to encourage black alumni to participate in the Indiana University Alumni Association.
My aunt is Miranda Hunt, who was one of the first blacks to integrate St. Cecilia High School in Nashville, Tenn.
Last but not least, my mother's godfather, Z. Alexander Looby, was a lawyer and civil rights activist in Nashville. He is credited for beginning the school desegregation movement in Nashville. He filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of students that had been denied admission to white schools after the Supreme Court ruled in the Brown v. Board of Education that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. He also defended students that were arrested in the Nashville sit-ins so that integration could take place in public places. Sadly, because of his support for the students, his house was bombed and dynamited by segregationists. I actually saw the picture of the bombed house which was nearly destroyed. My parents and I were visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum in Alabama, and I heard my mom say, "Oh my!" There was a picture of her godfather and his bombed house on the wall, and that's when I learned about him and all of his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.
WWE.COM: That’s remarkable. How did you learn about all these accomplishments from your family's earlier generations?
BELAIR: My grandmother had a wall filled with pictures and newspaper articles in her home in Nashville. As a kid, we would visit periodically, and I used to love to sit at that wall and ask questions about who was who and who did what. That's where I read articles and saw pictures of my grandfather performing studies in places like Africa, Latin America, South America and the Middle East. It is also where I saw pictures of my great-grandfather Toole and heard stories about him being an electrician and how my grandmother used to work for him as a young girl collecting money owed to him. My family put an emphasis on passing down our history to us because it’s important to know your family’s achievements and struggles.
WWE.COM: When it came to your arrival at WWE NXT, I understand you were assisted by an African American trailblazer in WWE, Mark Henry.
BELAIR: Yes, Mark Henry saw me on the internet when I was at a CrossFit competition in Puerto Rico where I was competing and speaking on the microphone. I used to make my own outfits and wore over-the-top, unusual and colorful outfits when I competed. He contacted me and asked if I had ever thought about being a WWE Superstar because he believed I possessed a lot of the qualities in terms of being athletic, having a strong personality and being comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. He told me he could get me a tryout, but the rest was up to me. I took the opportunity full-force and put it all out there at my tryouts because for one, I wanted it, and two, I wanted to live up to his expectations. If he could believe in me, then I could believe in myself.
WWE.COM: What kind of motivation has your family history had on your mindset throughout your athletic career and now WWE?
BELAIR: My family history motivates me in my everyday life and career. Knowing that my family has so many achievements despite their struggles motivates me to contribute and carry on our legacy. They fought, they struggled, they achieved, which opened doors for me and created an environment where so much more is possible for me. I want to live up to our legacy, I want to contribute, I want to continue to make change. I want to motivate. I want to create my own history for my children and the future generations to celebrate, and I want to be the example to others that my family was to me.
WWE.COM: What words of advice do you have for someone who may be curious about their own family history?
BELAIR: Ask everyone — your mother, your father, your aunt, your uncle, cousins — and research! Learn about your history, and know where you come from. Find something that drives you, motivates you and touches you. Find something to relate to, so that you can understand and be proud of your culture. Not only is history in the history books, but history is also in your own family and in your everyday life. History is extensive and constantly evolving. It is important to know your history to fully understand who you are.