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WNBA superstar opens up about working through fears, ‘giving yourself grace’

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(NEW YORK) — Two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson has been a dominant force, both on the basketball court and in the arenas of social justice and mental health.

The Olympic gold medalist has published a new memoir, Dear Black Girls: How to Be True to You, where she shares a deeply personal collection of stories from her own experiences growing up in South Carolina and navigating the world of professional basketball as a Black woman.

Wilson spoke with ABC News’ Linsey Davis about her life experience and advice for others on ABC News Live.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Congratulations first off on writing the book, and I’m curious because you had written an essay back in 2020 with the same name, “Dear Black Girls.” What made you decide you wanted to expand it to a book?

A’JA WILSON: Well, I actually wrote two [essays], “Dear Black Girls,” before the [2020 WNBA COVID] bubble and then “Dear Black Women” after the bubble. And it was like I kind of had a revolution, like in the bubble. I had time to really dive into myself. And then that’s when I got so much great traction from it. And I was just like, “You know what? We can form this into a bigger story because I have more to tell.”

ABC NEWS LIVE: Throughout the book, you talk about being a double minority, being Black and being a woman. I want to quote you here. You say, “The truth is we’re a double minority is like the world is constantly reminding us you’re a girl. Oh, and you’re a Black girl.” Tell me about how this intersectionality of gender and race has impacted you.

WILSON: It’s impacted my whole way of life, honestly. When someone [is] talking about the basketball, it’s just like, “OK, yeah, your sport is not a sport because you’re a woman.”

But then, on top of that, we don’t get looked at as much or viewed as much because we are Black women and we may not look as the marketable type or people may not want to see us. And it’s hard, but I think the beautiful thing that I found within it is just using my personality, making people understand that I’m human and I’m real, [and] that I go through things.

Yes, you see me in a uniform. Yes, you can see the banners, the trophies and the rings. But behind all that, I’m a human. I’m a young Black girl [who’s] trying to navigate this world that’s not the nicest. And understanding that I can still be successful in my field and level and whoever I want to love and have fun from there.

ABC NEWS LIVE: It’s become really kind of like a political hot rod in this country as far as is America a racist country [and] has it ever been? And you share a story of a fourth-grade sleepover. Share that with our viewers.

WILSON: Yes. So I was in the fourth grade, and one of my friends who I thought was really my close friend, was having a birthday party, and she was just like, “Yeah, you can come, but you can’t stay inside the house. You have to stay outside. Because my dad doesn’t like Black people.”

And that right there struck my core because I was a young Black girl in a private school, and I just thought everybody was friends. I thought we were all equal, and we were all fair. And that’s when I kind of realized, as I grew up, my parents had to have that conversation with me that you’re not really liked all the time, but you don’t need to change who you are and who you want to become.

And I kind of took that story, [which] kind of struck my core for a while, and, as I got older, it didn’t get easier. But I just understood more of like understanding who I am and how I want people to view me, and I continue to do that to plant seeds for the next generation.

ABC NEWS LIVE: There was a part in the book that really struck me where you talk about “life had never been so good, and I had never felt so anxious and so afraid. Everyone always talks about the fear of failure, but the thing I never hear anyone talk about is the fear of success.” Explain what that means for people who have never felt that.

WILSON: Yes…We’re human. We’re always just fear of rejection, [and] fear of failure. And it’s just this feeling that we’re getting like, “Oh, I don’t want to do it.” But then I’m like, when it’s actually success, sometimes success can open up a whole other level for people to come into. And it’s kind of hard to be out there and be vulnerable and allow people into your life to nitpick it and judge you on different things, and that comes with success.

You come underneath that spotlight where people have no choice but to pay attention to you, and that’s hard and it’s hard to hide from it, as well. And I think that’s why I was so open with my mental health, because I needed people to know I’m human.

ABC NEWS LIVE: What would you like for young readers, perhaps even particularly young Black girls, to take away from this book?

WILSON: Ooh, I would just tell them, just feel the feelings. I think sometimes we carry a lot on our shoulders. We’re swept underneath the rug. We feel like we have to put on a mask every single time we wake up. But some days we don’t need to do that and understand that it’s OK to feel not OK. It’s OK to have days where you’re just like, “I don’t feel like A’ja.” “I don’t want to do this,” and know that you’re still OK every step of the way and give yourself some grace.

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