The Life and Death of Rosalind Ross
The recent killing of former two-time All-American Basketball player, Rosalind Ross really disturbed me. Since news of her death, all I could think has been: “when women kill, it truly means we have an unhealthy society.”
Women murderers reflect the unhealthiness and the loss of moral fiber in our society because women are the nurturers of the world.
Upon hearing of the killing right down the street from my house, people began to call me to share with me that the two women (the victim and suspect) were lovers. Yes, they were gay.
I-Witness is going to keep it real. Some made comments like “well that’s what they get.” Ya’ll know, they went into the routine of what most homophobic folks say, “God didn’t make Suzie and Mary or Steve and Mike, he made Adam and Eve.”
In the midst of the negative, it was the good things that folks said about Rosalind, affectionately known as Roz, and her personal accomplishments that truly made me want to know more. It also made me wonder, how does someone like Roz end up dead in a parking lot, killed by another woman.
I attended Roz’s funeral. I have never been to a gay funeral that I know of – but then again, what is a gay funeral anyway? I began feeling almost as if Roz herself was calling out to me to perhaps bring some understanding to others about those who chose an alternate lifestyle.
Willie Ross agreed to give me an up close and personal interview as the parent of an openly gay child. I wanted to chat about a few things as I will throughout this story.
Ross, with much passion, shared with me the love he had for his daughter. As a parent he learned to accept and love her the way she was even though he did not agree with her chosen lifestyle. Hopefully, we can all learn something about tolerance but more importantly, about love and the unconditional love of a father.
I-Witness didn’t know Roz nor the alleged shooter, Malika. But as days passed, I began to hear from people more and more about Rosalind Ross and her transition from a tradition lifestyle as a young beautiful woman to an alternative lifestyle living as a male. (We are not talking about a gender change.)
My purpose became to find out more about Roz the kind of life she had lived. As well as what I could learn about the non-traditional life style and how two young, educated and talented women ended up with both of their lives destroyed.
I want to share a little background on Roz. Rosalind Ross had a passion for basketball beginning at Hopkins Street School. Her dad said, one day she just picked up a basketball and started bouncing it and never quit. So he bought her a basketball and later put up a hoop in the back yard where she could play.
Next thing he knew his Baby girl, as he called her all of her life, was shooting hoops with the best of them not girls but some of the best playground basketball players on any court in the city. She ran rings around most of them. All the guys wanted her on their team. They said “she was cold!”
Roz was beginning to show real talent and of course, basketball became everything to her. Her uncles, Jeffery and Willie Jr. Ross and Richard Johnson along with her cousins, Javier and Montrell Johnson begin to train her in defense, offense and shooting the ball.
It paid off because she began to earn a good rep as an all around basketball player.
While she was passionate about basketball she was equally passionate about academics. They say she was extremely bright and articulate.
Willie and Pamela were active parents in their children’s lives. Willie says, as a man he refused to make babies and not be with them. He knew what his mother went through as a single parent and he didn’t want that for his children.
Roz went on to attend Milwaukee Tech High School (now known as Bradley Tech) where she made the basketball team. While in high school, she made City Conference setting a record of 28 rebounds in one game, which remains a record untouched by any male or female basketball players.
Her contributions to Tech’s basketball team were monumental, both on and off the court. “Roz was a great person and had great character, and an outstanding person. She was very passionate and understanding,” said Ken Williams, her former high school coach.
After graduating from Tech Roz went to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, where she twice received All-American honors. She transferred to the University of Oklahoma.
In 2002, it was here that the now Oklahoma Sooner’s talents paid off as she led her team to the Finale Four and the chance to play in the championship tournament. Well the Sooners weren’t crowned champions, but they played the game well, losing the championship by five points. They were champions in their hearts.
Said Sheri Coale, the University of Oklahoma’s head basketball coach: “Roz was an integral part of that incredibly special 2002 national runner-up team that put our program on the map. She was the consummate competitor, a teammate in the truest sense of the word. Her contribution and legacy are forever etched in our program’s history.”
It is believed that Roz decided to really come out and be who she truly believed she was in Oklahoma. In fact, she brought her girlfriend home for a visit.
Her dad was really upset about her lifestyle choice and he expressed it. He stated throughout the years sometimes things seemed strange to him with Roz and her friends, but he never gave it a thought that his “Baby girl” maybe gay. He simply thought nothing of it because he knew women were more outgoing with each other and emotional than men.
After graduating from University of Oklahoma, Roz was drafted in the First Round, by the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks as the eighth overall pick. Her career was short lived due to chronic knee problems.
Upon her return home from the WNBA, she worked as a counselor and a security guard. Her dad continues, she didn’t want to have any children, but she loved children and worked with many of them at the Neighborhood House.
As a young child Roz was always bringing other children home with her. Willie and his wife, Pamela were always taking children in who had nowhere else to go. Many of the children just needed some structure and someone to love them.
“We raised many of the children she brought home who were in distress and all of them turned out to be great productive citizens and are doing well for themselves. They called me “Pops” too and I loved it,” Willie Ross said.
Roz was always known for extending her hand and helping people. Her passion for trying to set children on the right path was even greater. Her favorite saying to children was “Failure is easy because you don’t have to do anything to fail. But to be successful you have to work hard to obtain it.” Or she would tell them to put down their games and use their brain-you don’t ever have to put your brain down.
She saw a neighborhood girl once as she was riding home. She asked, why aren’t you in school. The girl’s response I don’t have any clothes to wear to school. Roz said you know school is not a fashion show. Roz had just received her first pay check and she went to buy the girl two outfits and shoes so she could attend school. She was a true believer in education.
Roz loved her mom, as her mother was far more accepting of her daughter’s lifestyle than her dad, who she called Pops. He said he loved when she called him pops. He remembered watching Sanford and Son, and Lamont would call his dad (Red Fox) pops. He thought that was so cool and noted if he ever had children he wanted them to call him pops. Well he had Roz and out of the blue one day she started calling him Pops never knowing that’s what he wanted to be called.
He worked third shift while his wife worked first shift. He was responsible for getting Roz to school every day, dressing her and the whole bit. He taught her and her brothers how to cook, iron, clean, sew always telling her and her two other siblings, Spencer L. Ross and Kenneth L. Collins, “I want you to become independent.”
Willie shared many things with me about his “Baby girl” sometimes through tears and laughter.
He said when he truly realized that his daughter was living an alternative lifestyle he became really upset. He did not accept the life style and definitely didn’t want it for his “Baby Girl.” After all he was looking forward to grandchildren someday.
He and Roz had a falling out about her choice of lifestyle. They didn’t speak for a while. Roz would still come over to see her mom and when he would enter the house she would tell her mom, “I have to go talk to you later.”
The distance between father and daughter began causing problems between husband and wife. “Roz was still my daughter and I didn’t want to keep her from her mom nor be the source of separating my family,” Ross said. So one day, he called her and told her they needed to talk. They met at his favorite place, Red Lobster.
It was here that Pops and his Baby Girl put everything on the table. She told him who she felt she was and he sharing how he felt about it. With both of them being very candid with each other. It was her being there telling him who she was and that he needed to accept her the way that she was. She shared with him that she never told him about the way she felt about women because she didn’t want to disappoint him.
Ross said he looked at his daughter, and realized that she was him. “ She was a part of me how could I not love her, it would be like me not loving myself,” he said. “I loved my Baby Girl. And I want everyone to know I was proud to be her dad.”
In the midst of the conversation, he asked Roz if she was happy. She said that she was. His response: “then that’s all that matters from now on. If you are happy, then I am happy for you.” They bonded again, as Pops and Baby Girl, with Willie willing to accept her lifestyle.
Roz and Malika C. Willoughby had known each other since high school. Malika was also a basketball player; she played basketball on the Washington High Girls Basketball team. The two became friends, but it is unknown if they had a personal relationship at that time because Roz had not officially come out.
Willoughby went on to attend UW-Milwaukee where she became a star then transferred to Kent State where she received her degree. Malika was a very talented young woman. She held a mastered degree and was a bank branch manager at a large, local bank.
The two reconnected after Roz returned to Milwaukee.
Roz’s parents were not really comfortable with their relationship. They found Malika to be possessive and didn’t want Roz to be around no one other than her. They sometimes feared that something would happen to their daughter, but they never thought death.
Things really began to change for Roz. She was recently offered a job at Oklahoma University as a recruiter. She was so excited. She was going to be back where she belonged with basketball.
All her dreams ended one Thursday night when Malika took Roz’s life with a bullet to the back of the head. Sources say that Malika didn’t want Roz to leave her. It was a domestic violence situation.
Roz was to report to work on Sept. 29. Well she won’t be able to, but the irony is that on Sept. 29, Malika will be making her first court appearance on a first degree murder charge, which if found guilty could land her in jail for the rest of her life.
The wake was at the New Pitts Mortuary. Hundreds of people of all races were already there to say good-bye to their friend.
I watched the video of Roz’s life she appeared to be a truly fun-loving person. I watched the people come in and many cried showing much pain. Roz didn’t look like the girl that I had seen on the newscast. In fact, I could have mistaken her for a young, handsome guy. She was nicely dressed. I also attended the funeral at Christian Faith Fellowship Church. The church was full to capacity.
Folks came from all over the country and locally, to give a final salute to their fallen star, Milwaukee Tech, Oklahoma University, the WNBA, principals, teachers, classmates, even many of the young men she played ball with most of them truly grieving openly at their loss.
Her teammates all gathered around her casket for one finale salute as the team they were.
Former Tech Principal Janie Hatton told us, “Roz was smart, classy and a humble quite leader. I saw her a couple months ago at a restaurant and as she was leaving. She asked the waitress to give her my bill. She then smiled at me and said that’s for all my bubble gum you took from me and ate.”
Former Teammate Caton Hill said “Roz was a true, good person who was one of the grittiest, hard working teammate I have ever known. I am incredibly sad that I will never hear her high pitched-speedy banter again. We all loved her and will miss her.”
Coach Coales gave a salute as well. “The entire Oklahoma University Women’s Basketball family is saddened by the sudden and tragic loss of Rosalind Ross. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and her teammates during this most difficult time.”
Many shared poems and letters they had written to Roz. There were the Signature Dancers who also paid tribute to her. Many hugs and condolences were given to the family. Her teammates asked her parents to allow the basketball they presented them to replace all other basketballs, because it was signed by all the all her teammates.
There were four children, three boys and a girl, there that Roz considered her children. She took the boys bi-weekly to the barbershop. She put them in after school programs. Helped them with their homework and spent time with them as if they were her own. They grieved hard for the fallen star.
I watched every single person there. I was trying to see the gay people that folks were telling me about. I kept trying to see the aliens, or the boogie man, something that made Roz friends different then all the rest of us. But I never saw it. What I saw were human beings, grieving the senseless and tragic loss of someone who gave them so much.
I-Witness is sharing this story because we still live in a society where the statistics say that by the time a 12 year-old girl turns 21 years old, she will have had seven same sex encounters. So those living a non-tradition lifestyle are here to stay.
We need to find a way to deal with it without judgment. I shared Roz and her father with all of you to show that his disapproval of his daughter’s choice of lifestyle was not greater than his love for his daughter, who was a part of him. To share with other parents to not desert their children who choose to live a lifestyle that they choose. You can’t stop loving them or disowning them.
Parents must support their children even if you don’t agree with the alternative lifestyle as Roz Pops did. Willie shared with me that had his daughter been murdered like this and he had not reconnected with her because she wanted to be who she was not who he thought she be. It would have destroyed him and his family.
While our society has come a long way in accepting people who chose an alternative lifestyle and many say we have tolerance now, we are not there yet. Some people still make fun of gay people. Some gay people are still killed because they are gay, the list could go on.
Yes, Roz was gay, but in her short life she touched many lives. I-Witness heard person after person, adults as well as the little children, tell their “Roz story” and how she impacted their lives. How she was always there for them.
She counseled and mentored children both boys and girls with much love and she called it the greatest job for her because she loved children and she wanted to see them successful. I heard how she loved laughter and laughing. I heard how she could inspire the world with her smile.
No I didn’t see a gay person or gay people. What I saw were human beings showing love as all the rest of us do when we lose a love one.
Ok, Roz you can let me rest now. I didn’t know you, but all of those who cared about you came out to celebrate your life gave me a feeling of who you really were.
I’ve shared with the world, who you really were, and the real title you wore was a decent human being a child of the Creator too who knew how to love and care about people just like the rest of us.
For all of you who are homophobic just remember: Just like God made you he also made gay people and he calls us all his children.
November 18, 2015 //
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