For Georgia native Robert Baker ’20, the meeting was especially meaningful. “Being from Atlanta, meeting Jimmy Carter is a big deal,” he said. Carter was governor of Georgia before becoming president, and his presidential library is in Atlanta. He has spent decades working with various charities, helping build bridges between people. “During the church service, the pastor actually talked about some of [Carter’s] accomplishments, especially his impact on the black community, so that was great to hear, knowing that someone from my state did that and made such a great impression on this nation.”
Baker also appreciated bonding with the team off the court.
“Probably 95 percent of the time when we are all together, all 20 of us, it’s on the court, in the weight room, on the track, or something like that, so being outside in such a unique place like Ebenezer Baptist Church or Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorial site, it was very special — different,” he said. “It was great to share some of the history of where I’m from with my teammates. It meant a lot to me.”
That kind of experience plays right into Amaker’s philosophy. He wants his players to be well-rounded and leave Harvard with experiences that bring them closer together while helping them branch out to understand the world.
“We try to have an impact with them to see how, with the educational opportunity they are getting from [Harvard], they can go and do some amazing things for themselves and for others,” Amaker said.
It’s why he has organized previous visits and is planning future ones. While in Memphis a few years ago, for instance, his team visited the National Civil Rights Museum. On an upcoming trip, he hopes to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Amaker also helps his players network with local and national leaders from the business, political, sports, and academic communities, whom he hopes help educate and inspire the team. In Atlanta, the players met NBA coach Mike Woodson. In the past, they have connected with influencers such as former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who spoke to them about issues of race, and Civil Rights activists including Harry Edwards, who talked about athlete activism. Amaker also invites his players to his monthly “Breakfast Club” gatherings, which can include guests such as Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh or Harvard philosopher Cornel West.
Amaker believes that the Crimson’s success on the court — he has lead the team to six Ivy League titles and four trips to the NCAA tournament — has come in part from helping his players become well-rounded citizens as well as student athletes.
“Those are the things that matter to me,” he said. “That we can connect, broaden their horizons, educate, and teach our players — along with don’t forget to box out and take a shot. If we continue to connect our players to the right people through Harvard, so many things are possible.”