David Robinson’s advice on effective social change: ‘Slow down’ ‘The Admiral’ says it took years to get his school and investment fund up and running

SAN ANTONIO — The students making their way through a first-floor corridor at Carver Academy and College Prep grew wide-eyed when they bumped into the school’s founder. A few gasped when the still-trim, 7-foot-1 Spurs legend David Robinson stopped to wave, and they beamed when he posed for a few selfies.

Most of these young people were not yet born when Robinson’s Hall of Fame NBA career ended in 2003. But, to them, the man nicknamed “the Admiral” is as much a star for what he has done off the court as for what he did on it.

Robinson launched what was then called Carver Academy 16 years ago with $10 million of his own money. It began as a small parochial school serving elementary students, but it is now a publicly funded charter school that enrolls more than 1,100 pupils. Most of the students are Hispanic or black, and most of them are from low-income families. Nearly all of them are on track for college, school officials say.

We’re in an age when athletes are embracing social activism in a way that rivals anything in the past. Following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, scores of NFL players have stirred a national debate by taking a knee or sitting during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice. Others have worn T-shirts or hoodies to protest the deaths of Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin. Many athletes have started foundations or otherwise tried to leverage their wealth and fame to spur social change.

It is a level of consciousness that heartens the 52-year-old Robinson. And while Robinson is careful not to criticize any protesting players, he says it remains to be seen whether their strong words will be matched by meaningful deeds — or make the kind of difference that is happening at Carver.

“There is certainly more awareness now. Guys understand their influence and opportunity,” Robinson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of young athletes. They care. They want to do something significant. The question is, how? How do they do it?”

It is something Robinson knows firsthand. It took him years to turn his dream of a school into reality. He says the athletes eager to make change should be prepared for a similar struggle.

A line of students eagerly greet David Robinson as they walk to their next classroom at the IDEA Carver College Prep campus. “I’m a teacher at heart,” said Robinson. “I’m a lifelong student.”

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“Guys in the NBA visit Carver all the time. Some of them say, ‘This is great. I want to start a school too,’ ” Robinson said. “My reaction is usually, ‘Wait. Slow down.’ You’ve got to be sure this is what you want to do. There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

Robinson’s patient brand of activism led him to not only open a school but to also co-found Admiral Capital Group, a private equity firm that helps pay for his good deeds. Admiral controls more than $1 billion in office space, hotels and apartment developments. The company also has invested alongside several NBA and NFL team owners in an online platform that helps coaches at all levels break down game film as well as a separate online platform that automates management of youth athletic leagues. The firm sets aside 10 percent of its profits for donations aimed at making social change.

“The business is a sustainable way of making a long-term impact,” said Daniel Bassichis, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the firm’s co-founder, who once served on Carver’s board. “It has a constant income, which is key. Most [athletes’] foundations do not have this kind of income.”

Admiral has also helped guide investments by other professional athletes, including Spurs guard Tony Parker, former NFL defensive lineman Justin Tuck (who served an internship with the firm as an MBA student) and retired major league outfielder Torii Hunter. Not only are the investors immersed in the details of their investments, but they also receive advice on how to make lasting social change.

“There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

For instance, each year the firm hires 25 Houston-area high school students to work in a Hilton Garden Inn hotel it owns there. The idea is to expose young people to careers in the hospitality industry. If students take to the work, they are given scholarships to the University of Houston, which they attend as Admiral scholars.

Robinson’s vision for social activism came into focus three decades ago during a two-year military commitment after his graduation from the Naval Academy. During that time, Robinson visited a couple of dozen Washington, D.C.-area high schools to deliver a simple message: Just say no to drugs.

Most students seemed thrilled to have the basketball star in their midst. Still, Robinson’s words frequently fell flat, particularly with the students who most needed to hear them. He realized he had to do more than say something. He had to do something.

“I realized it was like trying to put a Band-Aid on a big wound,” Robinson recalled. “Some of the kids would say, ‘This ain’t reality to us.’ From what they knew, drug dealers were making money. Or education wouldn’t change their lives. I found myself wondering, what can I do to help these kids? How do I make change?”

Robinson, a devout Christian, prayed on it. The answer he got convinced him that he should one day open a school to help guide young people to make better choices, regardless of the difficult circumstances they may confront.

“You can talk until you are blue in the face, but you can’t change people,” he said. “But you can plant seeds, and education is a natural way to plant seeds.”

Robinson nurtured his dream for most of his NBA career, making donations and connections and learning what he could about educational policy. Finally, he made his move, opening Carver Academy in 2001, two years before he retired from basketball. As a parochial school, it had just 120 students. To expand its reach and relieve the constant fundraising pressure, Robinson agreed in 2012 to convert Carver into a publicly funded charter school by joining forces with IDEA, a nonprofit that operates 61 schools serving 36,000 students across Texas. Robinson is now a member of IDEA’s San Antonio regional board.

The school, renamed Carver Academy and College Prep, now has more than 1,100 students in kindergarten through 11th grade. (It will add 12th-grade classes next year.)

David Robinson originally founded George W. Carver Academy in 2001. Eleven years later, he partnered with IDEA Public Schools to expand his goal of accessible quality education for all children.

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“When I started Carver, I did not know what I was doing,” Robinson said. “It is a huge undertaking: fundraising, curriculum, finding partners. It is a commitment, and it takes a long time to learn.”

Carver is located not far from the Spurs’ home arena. “We have students in homeless shelters, or who have lived in cars for periods of time. There are all kinds of life issues,” said Guadalupe Diaz, principal of Carver’s elementary program. “But there is an abiding belief that they can overcome. They can do it.”

One of Robinson’s core beliefs is that tough circumstances should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles to achievement. He named the school after George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery but nonetheless went on to become a widely respected botanist, inventor and teacher. He thought Carver’s life story contained a lesson for young people today.

“If you think you have a bad situation, that man grew up in a worse situation,” Robinson explained. “But Carver knew there was a reason he was here. That led him to do amazing things. We have to start where we are, use what we have and make something of it. And never be satisfied.”

Robinson says another one of his core strategies is to inspire young people to tap into their own gifts and leverage whatever opportunities they have.

“Every time you turn on the television, people see rap stars, athletes and actors. You don’t see the everyday people who are doing well. The culture points us to these unattainable roles. How many of us are going to be athletes? Practically nobody. Success is not being Jay-Z. There is only one Jay-Z. Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important? The idea is to get them excited for the life before them.”

Too often, Robinson said, schools that serve low-income students succumb to the instability and low expectations that often accompany poverty. It is a problem identified by many educators but one Carver has apparently found a way to conquer. Its elementary school students consistently score near the 70th percentile on standardized math and reading tests, an achievement that officials attribute to their individualized focus on the students. Parents have responded: This year the school could enroll just 120 new students out of 300 who applied through a lottery.

“Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important?”

“What I think Carver has figured out is how to help students grapple with community issues that might come up and not hold them against the kids,” said Brittany Hibbert, an assistant principal at Carver’s upper school. She said students and administrators do home visits, staff Saturday school and take calls from students at night. “We literally do whatever it takes.”

High expectations and individually tailored instruction help. But it is also helpful that one of San Antonio’s best-known celebrities is a regular presence at Carver. The first floor of the upper school has a small museum dedicated to Robinson, a two-time NBA champion, 10-time All Star and former league MVP. There are jerseys from the Naval Academy, the Spurs and the two U.S. Olympic teams he played for. There are also medals and trophies, and even a small section of basketball floor marked with the footprints of Robinson and some of his former teammates and coaches.

“His presence is significant,” said Chang Yu, principal of Carver’s upper school. “His name appeals, and it resonates quality, sportsmanship, education — all good things that people gravitate toward. He definitely is a factor in our success.”

Robinson says that is where many people who command the spotlight can be helpful. Robinson applauded stars such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and others who have backed up their calls for social justice by donating millions of dollars for things such as after-school programs and college scholarships. As he watches more athletes find their voice embracing the new civil rights movement, he said he will be dividing them into two categories: those who just say things, and those who back their words with action.

“I can say anything I want to say, but you can also go back and track what I’ve done over the last 20 years to see if what I’m saying matches up,” Robinson said. “Where is your money going? What have you given to? So you have the nerve to make a public statement. Now I am going to check and see how much you’ve done so I can determine whether your statement has any value.”

Gregg Popovich’s speech about white privilege felt like a personal rebuke But now I’m starting to understand what it means

White Privilege: (noun). The fact of people with white skin having advantages in society that other people do not have.

Monday afternoon in downtown Washington, D.C., and every one of the overhead office televisions is leading with NFL franchises responding to the 45th president of the United States, who called anthem-protesting players “sons of bitches” last week and implored owners to tell these kneeling men, reality TV-style, “You’re fired!”

Then Gregg Popovich’s cloudy-white visage filled the screen, making me feel like crap.

“We still have no clue of what being born white means,” the coach of the San Antonio Spurs said in the middle of a three-minute, Check Your Privilege, Mr. President, scolding. “It’s like you’re at the 50-meter mark in a 100-meter dash. And you’ve got that kind of a lead because, yes, you were born white. You have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically there. And they have been built up and cemented for hundreds of years.”

My colleagues, almost all of whom are black, nodded approvingly because Pop “gets it,” and some vowed to become Spurs fans simply because of his comments. I did the same.

But I also had this pang gnawing at me all day and into the night.

The truth: Many well-intentioned white people I know lose their minds when they hear about their “white privilege.” It’s not that we haven’t acknowledged our ancestors’ original sin — the dehumanization of a people, manifested in tragically being able to call another human being “property.” We have.

But fully accepting that the color of our skin benefits us today is often too much to unpack.

When we hear, “Check your privilege,” we feel ostracized from the people we thought shared the common purpose of equality with us. Further, if we are directly confronting racism in our online and physical worlds, we don’t want to hear, “Thanks, but there is no extra credit for doing what is right.”

We want an impossible validation: to be told that, unlike those Confederate-lovin’ nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, we don’t have white privilege.

And that gets to dissecting the meaning of privilege — separating the feelings of personal slight from a systemic inequity. Which is flat-out hard. We either a) don’t believe it; b) don’t think we are participants in it; or c) will engage to a point but ultimately decide, “I’m sorry, I don’t share this outlook on the world.”

It was only after hearing Popovich that I realized that we who continue to bullheadedly think that way represent a real obstacle toward achieving this elusive better place we always talk about.

Look, this isn’t something Colin Kaepernick or Michael Bennett can fix alone, just as Tommie Smith and John Carlos couldn’t fix it in 1968. This isn’t something any person of color can change by himself.

This is a difficult white-person-to-white-person conversation that has to happen between white men and women of all classes for any lasting change to occur. Black and brown people already know this. It’s not news to them that we have advantages bestowed at birth that they don’t.

If you can’t accept that white people have it easier, then you will never accept why someone would kneel during the national anthem. And until those two are reconciled, we shouldn’t expect people to stand — especially those most adversely affected by society’s unfair constructs.

We want an impossible validation: to be told that, unlike those Confederate-lovin’ nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, we don’t have white privilege.

The display of unity on Sunday, with some NFL owners linking arms with their players, was indeed an act of togetherness. But it was in response to the president crudely calling out their employees — not black men being killed by police. They were standing up for the NFL, not human rights. If Sunday was it, all they did was participate in a photo op that made everyone feel good.

We don’t need to feel good right now; we need to feel uncomfortable.

It’s a process. For one, hearing we have “white privilege” feels like it carries a stigma, as if we have been branded “racist” and don’t know why. It’s almost like a virus one needs to be inoculated from at a CVS pharmacy each fall.

But, of course, it doesn’t work like that. We don’t have a disease — society does.

Author and consultant Frances E. Kendall’s 2002 essay Understanding White Privilege put it this way: “For me, the confusion and pain of this knowledge is somewhat eased by reminding myself that this system is not based on each individual white person’s intention to harm but on our racial group’s determination to preserve what we believe is rightly ours. This distinction is, on one hand, important, and, on the other hand, not important at all because, regardless of personal intent, the impact is the same.”

In other words, hearing you have “white privilege” shouldn’t carry an ounce of baggage, even if the language feels accusatory. I know it took me a while to get there.

I have, for much of my life, failed to acknowledge that privilege. I rationalized that I did not have it because my papa-was-a-rolling-stone father moved us to a rural area of Hawaii when I was 12 — and I faced ugly prejudice for being white. (Everyone, by the way, should be on the other side of the fence at least once in their life to see what it’s like.) Given my own life circumstances, I reasoned it didn’t apply to me, that my own broken-home, abusive childhood didn’t involve any suburban cul-de-sacs or regular visits to the dentist, so what do I know about privilege?

But when you begin to think deeply about your own life experiences compared with your friends of color, it’s harder to dismiss.

I’ve never had to educate my young sons to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection, to warn them of law enforcement officers who might not give them the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve never applied for a home loan and suspected that I was turned down because some of my prospective neighbors only want to live next to and around people who look and think like them.

Privilege is when a deranged racist murders multiple black worshippers at a church Bible study and, upon seeing the race of the individual who did it, you did not have to say to your friend, “Damn, now they’re going to think all of us white folk are racist killers.”

The biggest benefit of being white: Our problems are far less likely to be attributed to some racial/cultural failure. Our government will hear our cries and not tell us to get over it but rather, in point of fact, ask us how it can help (even if the help doesn’t always come).

If Popovich is honest, white privilege is what allows him to make those statements in the first place. Meanwhile, coach Mike Tomlin, who’s never had a losing season, has been to two Super Bowls, won one and has guided the Pittsburgh Steelers to more wins the past decade than any team except the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, is walking a tightrope at this minute, trying to keep his protest-torn team together while not being shunned by his boss and the team’s customers.

“People get bored. ‘Oh, is it that again? They’re pulling the race card again, why do we have to talk about that again?’ ” Popovich said. “Well, it’s because it’s uncomfortable and there has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people — because we are comfortable.”

I don’t like hearing this. It forces me to confront truths I don’t necessarily want to accept, because I don’t remember any breaks given me or job opportunities offered because of my complexion. But I’d be in denial to not believe that in numerous situations my race has helped me — in ways I never even notice.

Popovich’s statements are a piece of a conversation between white people that needs to happen more frequently. Whether there are enough people who look like me willing to engage in that conversation is an open question.

At least this week, though, his gruffness and often-annoying certainty about everything turned out to be good for more than just lighting a fire under Tim Duncan’s tush:

“Many people can’t look at it because it’s too difficult. It can’t be something that is on their plate on a daily basis,” he said. “People want to hold their position. People want the status quo. People don’t want to give that up. And until it’s given up, it’s not going to be fixed.”

Anyone else white want to take a stab at it? It’s the only way the work of everyone from Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick will ever get done.

John Carlos, John Wooten know Kaepernick’s road is a long one After 50 years of fighting for change, these old warriors are unbowed but tired

Five decades before a backup NFL quarterback used the national anthem to tell America it can do better — enraging a U.S. president and millions of others, suffering the personal and professional consequences — John Carlos did the same.

He was the original.

He paid his dues, put in the time, working for social change for so long that he and Tommie Smith, his teammate on that Olympic podium in Mexico City, became the gold standard of athlete activism. They’re now so revered for their conviction and courage during the bubbling-over racial cauldron of the 1960s that there are statues of them on their college campus at San Jose State.

Carlos is now 72 years old. But he still can’t smell the roses. Or catch barely a sniff of satisfaction for all the work put in. His voice is raspy. He sounds exhausted. He knew it wasn’t over, this centuries-old cage fight for human rights. He just figured there would be more enlightened soldiers by now.

“It’s been a wakeup call for the last 50 f—ing years to let them know,” Carlos says from his home in Atlanta. “Excuse my language.”

“Like I been sayin’ for 50 years, there ain’t no neutrality. You gotta be on one side or the other. This man [President Donald Trump] is pushing them to make a decision, to find out who they really are. It’s time to get involved, to speak your truth — ‘You’re going to call me for what I am and respond to me for what I am’ — or you’re going to be a sucka for all eternity.”

You don’t want to be a sucka for all eternity.


A group of top African-American athletes from different sporting disciplines gather to give support and hear the boxer Muhammad Ali give his reasons for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War, at a meeting of the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, held in Cleveland, June 4, 1967. Seated in the front row, from left to right: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Standing behind them are: Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and John Wooten.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

John Wooten was blocking for Jim Brown in Cleveland and learned a brother needed help: Muhammad Ali was facing charges for refusing to fight the war in Vietnam. Wooten began calling famous black athletes willing to stand with Ali at the Cleveland Summit. From Brown to the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they all said, “No problem, we’ll be there.”

He knew it wouldn’t be over in 1967 when he stood behind The Greatest and alongside Bill Russell at that historic conclave of change agents. But 50 years later, Wooten is 80 years old, and there’s no sense of triumph for him either. No sense of finality in his war against inequality.

It’s going on midnight at his home in Arlington, Texas. He’s tired, the words tumbling slowly and deliberately through the receiver.

“It’s obvious to me that nowhere does our president understand the Constitution of this country,” says Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes diversity in the coaching ranks and front offices of the NFL. “Because those players standing or kneeling or sitting did not break one single law of this country, nor have they broken any rule in the National Football League.”

Wooten has a couple of more thoughts before going to bed, so he can get up and fight tomorrow.

“When does unsportsmanlike conduct come in when men are standing to show this country that they are concerned about the young people being killed across the country? Are the football players and athletes to pretend this doesn’t exist?”


These two athletic icons for human rights know that change comes embarrassingly slowly. Fighting for it is soul-siphoning hard. Discouragement and defeat are just as frequent, if not more frequent, than success and victory. It wears you down and can leave you bitter.

“Listen, man, they are out there all the time,” said Carlos of the racists in our midst. “When they come, they come in numbers. The real sad thing is, they’re more united than we’ve ever been. Even people now, they think these dudes [protesting] hate their country instead of fighting for a better world and saying we can do better. Fifty years after Tommie and me, really, how far have we come?”

“It’s time to get involved, to speak your truth — ‘You’re going to call me for what I am and respond to me for what I am’ — or you’re going to be a sucka for all eternity.” – John Carlos

Next summer is the golden anniversary of Carlos and Smith bowing their heads, standing on the podium without shoes to symbolize American poverty, and raising their gloved fists. The next day they were expelled from the U.S. team and sent home. For the next 10 years, “my life was hell,” Carlos told Vox last year. He lost much more than money: friends, his marriage. They loved him. But they were scared they, too, would be ostracized.

Ali’s anti-war position was blasphemy to many Americans in 1967. But “we didn’t care about any perceived threats,” Wooten told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer this past year to mark the summit’s anniversary. “We weren’t concerned because we weren’t going to waver. We were unified. We all had a real relationship with each other, and we knew we were doing something for the betterment of all.”

The country forked in thought with some repulsed and others viewing their acts as courageous.

Just like … now.

“Why does it take for [Trump] to make that one statement to make all [players] react now, when they know they should’ve reacted earlier anyway?” Carlos said. “They should have been out there a long time ago to support [Colin] Kaepernick and Michael Bennett. They all should have been rallying around them.

“But Trump done put it on the line now and told them, ‘If you do it, we gon’ spank your a–.’ And that’s a threat. So now it’s on the owners — should they disrespect the will of their players, their human rights?”

Says Wooten: “I hope these players will … show the president and the country the unity felt by all of us who want to see a better, more just world. And that those who feel it is an affront to patriotism will one day see that this act of solidarity is about making America better, not worse.”

Many NFL owners locked arms with their players on Sunday. Some released statements in support of their socially conscious employees. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith bonded over a common enemy.

“Those players standing or kneeling or sitting did not break one single law of this country, nor have they broken any rule in the National Football League.” – John Wooten

Former Cleveland Browns great John Wooten watches during an NFL football game between the Browns and New York Jets on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010, in Cleveland.

AP Photo/David Richard

Wooten is more measured than Carlos, who is animated, sometimes angry and trying ineffectually to avoid a public scrap with Trump.

“The man is creating so much division in the country,” he continued. “You better get ready for the next Civil War, brother. Not to mention the wall. What can I say, man? If I get out there right now, I’m going to lambaste the man so bad, ’cause I ain’t gonna hold s— back about where his mind his. I don’t want to get into no running battle with this fool.”

Voice rising, Carlos is spiritually back in the ’60s. And, of course, that’s the most wrenching part: Fifty years later, not enough has changed.


Large chunks of our society don’t see black men kneeling for racial justice and a more equitable country. They see people demeaning Arlington National Cemetery’s dead.

Wooten and Carlos know of this historical bait and switch. They refuse to allow #TakeAKnee to be reframed as a referendum on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a protest of police brutality and racism, the often senseless killing of black men by overwhelmingly white law enforcement. That’s it.

“You would think the NFL is a Hollywood show now, the way they promote it on TV, where it’s about family and inclusive and we’re all happy,” Carlos says derisively.

“Until we go into a meeting to find out why this young man isn’t in the NFL now playing. He’s played for several years. He’s gone to the Super Bowl. He’s better than a lot of quarterbacks in the league. Why is it that he’s not playing? But [Goodell] refuses to answer and address that, and the public refuses to demand him to do that. And everybody eats it up and does nothing.”

Carlos is resigned to the fact that most people will never care as much as he does. Wooten is more hopeful, if equally tired. For 50 years, nothing has happened quickly for either of them.

It’s the right fight; it’s just not an easy one. You devote your life to something for that long, you pay a price. People get burned out. It’s deflating.

But the best of them keep going, because they know the alternative. It’s too important, too ingrained in their identities. Today’s players need their wisdom and strength now just as Ali and Smith needed them then.

John Carlos is 72. John Wooten is 80. Their joints throb. They’re tired. And 50 years later, they still live for the fight.

At American Legion Hall, patriotism is complicated by the persistent realities of being black Discomfort with national anthem protests coupled with disgust over Trump’s denunciation of players

Old Glory flapped in the breeze outside American Legion Hall 263 near Baltimore Sunday as a group of black veterans and their relatives gathered inside to enjoy America’s game.

The Baltimore Ravens were getting roasted by the Jacksonville Jaguars on television, but much of the talk was about the groundswell of national anthem protests triggered by President Donald Trump’s angry outburst denouncing them. Dozens of Ravens and Jaguar players took a knee in defiance of Trump, and many others stood on the sidelines locking arms in a show of support.

“This much is for sure, Trump only fueled the fire,” said Richard Smith, 71, who served with the 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War before going on to a career as a butcher. “It is amazing that he had more to say about this than he did about those racists marching in Charlottesville.”

Smith is proud of his military service and proud of his imperfect country. Truth be told, he was ambivalent about the NFL players who took a knee or raised a fist during the national anthem. But once Trump weighed in — calling on NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” to “get that son of a b—- off the field right now” — Smith felt disgust, not solidarity, with the commander in chief.

“I don’t agree with taking a knee when the Star-Spangled Banner is played,” Smith said. “I thought it was not the right way to protest real problems. But, that said, I know Trump never served in the military. Now, he is cursing and disrespecting these guys. It only makes their point.”

Many of the Legionnaires and their family members voiced similar sentiments as they came to the hall for an afternoon of football as they do every Sunday during the NFL season. On one hand, they know better than most the sacrifice of military service. They also believe deeply in the promise of America. They spoke proudly of leading happy, productive lives and having children and grandchildren living the American Dream, with good jobs, nice homes, and successful families.

Ronald E. Randall Sr., outside of Jackson and Johnson Memorial Post 263 during the Ravens game.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

But their sense of patriotism and reverence for the nation’s symbols are complicated by the persistent realities of being black. They salute the American flag that flies in front of their stucco-faced hall. They rise for the national anthem. But they also know firsthand that their allegiance to the flag has not always protected their rights. For them, the national anthem can come across as both a song of soaring inspiration and a hollow tune.

Ronald E. Randall Sr., 69, a retired school custodian whose father and brother served in the Navy, grew up not far from the legion hall in an enclave that has been all black since just after Emancipation. As a kid, he was barred from the white-only swimming pools during Baltimore’s sweltering summers. His mother could not shop along the local commercial strip. That was for whites only, too. He was in junior high when the public schools were integrated, and he remembers he and his black friends having to brawl with insult-hurling white students before they were left alone.

Legal segregation was struck from the books more than six decades ago, but the stretch of wood-frame homes in the neighborhood, now known as the Winters Lane Historic District, remains overwhelmingly black. Economics, it turns out, is as effective as the law when it comes to limiting mobility. Homes just a few blocks away in mostly white Catonsville sell for at least double the cost of those on Winters Lane.

“That’s the kind of thing that makes people say really nothing has changed,” Randall said. “The players see that and that is what they are protesting. I don’t carry hate in my heart, but I know a lot of white folks have no respect for us.”

They rise for the national anthem. But they also know firsthand that their allegiance to the flag has not always protected their rights.

Smith remembers family members telling stories from when housing segregation in Baltimore was enforced not just by compliant real estate agents, but also by the fists and bricks of whites who could not countenance black neighbors.

“People used to attack you if you went into certain neighborhoods, just for being black,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but racism is going to be with us for a long time.”

Consuella Rheubottom, 77, who has two sons who served in the Army, tends bar at the hall. Fewer than a dozen people are in the dimly lit bar, a couple are playing on slot machines and others sit on their stools, watching the game on two flat screens.

Rheubottom said she felt some discomfort with the anthem protests. Yet, she felt repulsed — and scrambled to turn her television off — when she heard Trump insulting the players who chose to demonstrate.

“I was not sure what I thought about the protests. I can’t say that I firmly support them. I did not oppose them either,” she said, looking up as she mixed whiskey sours. “But I do know that what the president said is ignorant.”

Edward Neal, 85, a retired laboratory technician wearing a Ravens cap, slowly settled into a corner stool in the hall’s bar as conversation about the protests wore on. It was not long before he joined in.

Consuella Rheubottom makes whiskey sours at Jackson and Johnson Memorial Post 263 during the Ravens game.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

He has mixed feelings about it all, he said. Neal agreed that the protesters have a point. While race relations have improved during his lifetime, he said, there is still is a long way to go to achieve equality. At the same time, he has deep respect for those who choose to serve in the military, because has seen the physical costs of war up close. Serving as a medical corpsman during the Korean War, he helped treat troops with severed limbs and horrific burns. That kind of sacrifice, he said, should always be respected. The anthem protests can lead people to think that the sacrifice is not being honored, he said.

He added that teams should stand together. Unity is tested when some kneel and others stand for the anthem. And issues of social justice, he argued, are best debated in the halls of government and the courts.

Despite that, Neal took no comfort from Trump’s words. “What the president said was out of order,” he said. “If that is all he had to contribute, he should have said nothing.”

5 reasons to respect Dick Gregory The comedian was an activist for civil rights, women’s rights and nutrition

Comedian Dick Gregory, who died Saturday at 84, was one of the most successful black comedians working at the intersection of comedy and the civil rights struggle.

When Gregory fasted for 70 days in 1981, living off a gallon of water per day, his goal was to raise awareness about civil rights. He put his body on the line in the name of the culture while bringing awareness to food scarcity, health disparities and hunger.

“Years of severe fasting, not for health but for social change, had damaged his vasculature system long ago. He always reminded us, many of his fasts were not about his personal health but an attempt to heal the world,” his son, Christian Gregory, told The Associated Press. Gregory is survived by his wife, Lillian, and 10 children.

Here are five things to remember about the late activist and thought-provoker.

5. he was an athlete

Gregory ran track during high school in his hometown of St. Louis. He earned a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, where he set school records as a half-miler and miler.

“In high school I was fighting being broke and on relief,” he wrote in his 1963 autobiography. “But in college, I was fighting being Negro.”

His college days were cut short when he was drafted into the Army.

“We thought I was going to be a great athlete, and we were wrong, and I thought I was going to be a great entertainer, and that wasn’t it either. I’m going to be an American citizen. First class,” he once said, according to The Associated Press.

4. He ran for office twice

Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago in 1966 and president in 1968. He received 50,000 write-in votes for president.

3. He made nutrition into an empire

Gregory might just be the greatest of all time in the clean-eating craze. He was ahead of his time, promoting fasting and dieting before it was popular.

Gregory once weighed 350 pounds while smoking four packs of cigarettes and drinking a fifth of Scotch daily. He changed his life and began fasting. He conducted Dick Gregory’s Zero Nutrition Fasting Experiment in 1981 under doctors’ supervision and living off a gallon of water and prayer for 70 days at Dillard University’s Flint-Goodridge Hospital.

The fast prompted his 4-X Fasting Formula. According to yourdictionary.com, his Slim-safe Bahamian Diet products were “sold for $100 million when the special formulation became commercially available in August of 1984. Articles in People and USA Today made the diet a favorite among the general public.”

“Gregory went without solid food for weeks to draw attention to a wide range of causes, including Middle East peace, U.S. hostages in Iran, animal rights, police brutality, the Equal Rights Amendment for women and to support pop singer Michael Jackson when he was charged with sexual molestation in 2004.”

Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2000 and opted for herbs, exercise and vitamins instead of chemotherapy. The cancer went into remission a few years later.

2. he was the first black performer to sit on the couch of The Tonight Show

“Black folks made me. I’m in a little club making $5 a night three nights a week,” Gregory said during an interview with Reelblack published in November 2015. A gig at the Playboy Club in Chicago helped him move into a career that put him in front of white audiences.

“Where else in the world but America,” he joked, “could I have lived in the worst neighborhoods, attended the worst schools, rode in the back of the bus, and get paid $5,000 a week just for talking about it?”

He once got a call from producers of Tonight Starring Jack Paar. At the time, black performers weren’t invited to sit on the couch. He told Parr he would not accept the invitation unless he could sit on the couch after his stand-up. He became the first black performer to speak with Parr on the couch after his performance.

1. he was a feminist

Gregory marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol with a crowd of more than 100,000 people to push for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

After Charlottesville violence, Virginia football players see a role to play on and off the field They present a model for different people to work as a team

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Steps from the Robert E. Lee statue downtown, two white people on a bench call out to a stranger. It’s been two months since the former Lee Park was renamed Emancipation Park, and 150 years of Confederate history again came up for debate. Two days since the latest reconsideration of Confederate totems had again ended in death.

“Who are you with?” the pair demand of a black reporter, and it seems an immediate proxy for more freighted questions of history and allegiance — What side are you on? and Are you with me?

Questions hang over the city, the South, the nation, since white nationalists at a Unite the Right rally Saturday clashed with counterprotesters and a Nazi sympathizer allegedly plowed into activists, killing one young woman and injuring 19 others. Two police officers monitoring the protests also died when a mechanical failure sent their helicopter crashing to the ground. Rallies have continued around the country, and demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina, toppled a Confederate soldier’s statue.

Here, flowers and candles mark the makeshift memorial where Heather Heyer, 32, was struck, and a crowd of mourners stand close by to pay homage. Others sit, silent and staring. “Forgive us, Rest in Power, Love Always Wins,” read the messages in chalk.

But like the questions from the people on the bench, they feel incomplete to the moment — like people reckoning with the immediate aftermath of trauma while everyday instances of racism and privilege exist in plain sight. On the first workday since the tragedy, black men in brown delivery truck uniforms are unloading boxes and white men in summer suits visit the growing dedications to the fallen over lunch hour. Then everyone returns to their separate understandings of the world and how something like this could happen.

The questions don’t stay downtown, of course. The University of Virginia football team was at practice when they heard about the violence a few miles away. Team members are grappling with their own conceptions of race and hatred. It’s a moment for them to set an example, they say, and especially for the myriad lessons of football to come into play.

Daniel Hamm, an African-American tailback raised in a predominantly white community near the Blue Ridge Mountains, says he was taught not to see color, but Saturday’s violence had widened his eyes. “As student-athletes we know that we have a voice, and I think it’s time for us to put out a strong united message from the football program,” Hamm said. Racial hatred “is not welcome here — not welcome in this university, in this community, and it shouldn’t be welcome in this nation.”

Daniel Hamm, Kirk Garner and Micah Kiser

Lonnae O'Neal/The Undefeated

That’s something “the ultimate team sport” teaches, he says. In football, “you can’t do anything without your brothers being right there, doing their job right beside you.” No matter your position, everyone plays a role. You have “different races, religions, different political beliefs, so you have all these different kinds of people. There’s so much diversity you have to learn to work with. You have to put that aside for one common goal, and it really allows you to see that everyone is equal, everyone is valuable to society.”

Kirk Garner, a cornerback from Baltimore, says his faith teaches him to treat hate with love. “If there’s one true message I can give out to the youth, it’s just to not always be angry at these type of situations. There’s always other ways to overcome.” Garner cites Colin Kaepernick: “He’s a man that’s been given a platform, and he used his position to bring up the problems that are going on in America. And not only has he continued, but he’s stayed true to his word. I really respect what he’s doing, using his power to make change in the world.”

Hamm and Garner credit All-American linebacker Micah Kiser, a team leader who is from Baltimore, for urging the team to come up with a display of unity after the unrest. This football team is one of the most diverse groups they’ll ever be part of, Kiser said. “There are Polynesian kids, Asian kids, black, white, Latino, and we want to show we can come together for one common goal, to set an example for the city.” They’re taking a picture to send out over social media and working on the message. “By staying together, we can show and we can prove that that is stronger than whatever hate might be out there.”

People have to talk across racial lines in a democracy, said Kiser. “We’ve talked a lot about removals of statues and what does it mean. From my understanding and how I see it, you can’t erase history. But, at the same time, there needs to be a conversation. … Well, what does slavery mean at UVA? What did the Civil War mean to the state of Virginia? How did that affect us? How does this connect us?”

They want to play hard because they’re not just representing the school, “we’re representing Charlottesville,” Kiser said. And that extends past the UVA grounds. “Once you go down Main Street a little bit past campus, [the city] becomes a lot more black, and a lot of times a lot of people in Charlottesville might not feel that connection to the University of Virginia,” Kiser said. And they can change that.

In the office of second-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall, there’s a book of quotations from the school’s founder and the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder, who in his treatise Notes on the State of Virginia wrote that “blacks […] are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind.” Mendenhall notes the contradictions of Jefferson’s legacy.

“Growth does not happen when you’re comfortable, and the surface is not where growth is,” he said. “It’s only at the depths and in sincere dialogue.”

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s violence, the team focused on safety, routine and making sure players felt like they could talk about how they were feeling — some of the Nazi protesters were staying on the first two floors of their team hotel. Longer term, Mendenhall calls it an opportunity for character building.

Kids get messages about their physical gifts from a young age, he said, and “those are not lasting values in terms of contributing to society, making a living or giving of oneself to the community. I’m looking to creating amazing young people in their homes and communities and the world at large, rather than thinking of them only as football players. That to me is not enough of an identity to be lasting or sustainable.”

There may be a trial for the killing and injuries Saturday, and the white nationalists said they’ll return to Charlottesville, so the players will be contending with these crosscurrents for a long time.

“Here’s conflict and here’s hate and here are these other issues with free speech ironed in there somewhere, and here are these young people who really would like to do something. They don’t want to sit on their hands; they want to act appropriately, but also they want to make a difference,” Mendenhall said. They want to model unity and tolerance, something he said they’ve worked on as a team.

It’s hard to call what happened a blessing, but “the chance for outreach and a teachable moment in a program that’s new, under this backdrop, is almost perfect for the chance to do good,” said Mendenhall. And if they have success on the field, that will make their message all the more powerful.

Kiser calls the upcoming season and their mission on the football field a rallying point. “When you’re doing a lot of hard work together, nobody is worried about where you’re from. … I always say if the world could be more like a football team, we’d be better off.”

They have an opportunity to do something, Garner agrees. And if we “let this opportunity pass us, we’d be failing.”

Walter Beach, who was at ’67 Cleveland Summit, says he was ‘never contaminated’ by white supremacy He says now is the time for black athletes to stand for ‘their dignity and their worth’

At age 34, Walter Beach III stood in the back of a stuffy room in sweltering Cleveland next to Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor. The year was 1967. Eleven athletes and attorney Carl Stokes stood before a host of microphones in support of Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War.

The summit demonstrated the power that black athletes possessed when unified against a specific cause. Beach, now 84, has seen the evolution of athletic protest in the 50 years since the summit.

“ ‘It’s what we have to do, what I’m doing,’ ” said Beach, referencing the summit. “That’s the way I did. It was nothing special, and [I had] no anticipation to what it would ultimately be in terms of a historical context.”


During the 1960s, the battle for civil rights had turned bloody. The bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church coupled with the murders of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner between June 1963 and the summer of 1964 revealed just how resistant some were to racial equality. This was even more apparent at the John Lewis-led march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 that would end up as “Bloody Sunday.

All these events highlighted the need for social equality within the United States. Other than the breaching of the color barrier, professional sports had remained independent of the battle for social equality. That changed in 1967.

The event, effectively named the Cleveland Summit, was the first of its kind. Black professional athletes had never banded together to use their platform to express their discontent about a specific issue. The summit was a catalyst that signaled the importance of unity and triggered a chain reaction of similar protests.

Beach was an integral part of the dawn of black athletic activism in 1967 that reached a significant milestone in 2016 when four future NBA Hall of Famers took center stage at The ESPYS. Before the summit, Beach played cornerback for the Boston Patriots from 1960 to 1963 and spent the next three seasons with the Cleveland Browns before retiring in 1966. Beach was cut by the Patriots in 1963 and labeled a “troublemaker” for organizing a protest among the black players against the segregated living conditions during the team’s road trip to New Orleans.

“I didn’t grow up in a community where we thought white people were more intelligent or better or brighter or beautiful more so than black people,” said Beach. “So I was never contaminated with that virus, and that’s the operative term: contamination.”

Shortly after Beach joined the Browns, he forged a friendship with running back Jim Brown that has lasted more than half a century. The Pontiac, Michigan, native went on to help lead the Cleveland team to a world championship in 1964 thanks to Brown’s willingness to stick up for his friend. When Beach received the call to support Ali, there was no question that he would return the favor.


The man responsible for assembling the group seen in the iconic photograph was John B. Wooten, a former teammate of Beach’s who happened to serve as the executive director for the Negro Industrial Economic Union’s (NIEU) Cleveland office. The organization, later renamed the Black Economic Union, was founded by Brown in 1966 with the purpose of creating “an economic base for the African-American community,” said Wooten. After being instructed by Brown to piece together a group that would hear out Ali before the news conference, Wooten’s mind went to socially conscious athletes who had supported the NIEU in some way.

“Everybody that I called was in that picture,” said Wooten, referring to the iconic image of the Cleveland Summit. “There was no one that I called that was not in that picture.”

The lack of resistance that Wooten received reveals a stark difference in many of today’s black athletes, according to Beach: Not too many players will be willing to “jeopardize their livelihood.” Russell, Alcindor, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and even Wooten himself were all still playing professionally when they decided to offer their support. Even Brown, who had partnered with the company that promoted Ali’s fights, stood to lose a substantial chunk of change if The Champ followed through with his conscientious objection.

They all recognized that the issue was bigger than themselves and their careers.

Beach cited a variety of emotions, including shame, fear and anxiety, that ultimately prevent many black athletes from speaking out against racial injustice. Although the former cornerback had retired a year before the summit, football was never more important than his personal sovereignty.

“I didn’t have any fear,” said Beach. “It was never an issue with me whether I would play football or not play football when it came to personal violation.”

Beach recalled a story in which Art Modell, the former owner of the Browns, told him that he could not read Message to a Black Man by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Beach balked.

“You own this football team, but you don’t own me!”

Still, Beach maintained his optimism about the future. He spoke with fervor recently as he acknowledged the possibility of another summit in the future. He also praised Dwyane Wade’s Ebony cover, which paid homage to Trayvon Martin. From Wade’s cover to the 2016 ESPYS to Colin Kaepernick’s dissent, these acts of social activism resonate with Beach because of his undying love for black people.

In the 50 years since the summit, Beach attended Yale Law School, studied Surat Shabd Yoga in India, published his memoir and devoted his life to being a dissident to racial injustice in all of its forms. Nowadays, Beach serves as a lecturer who’s passionate about black young people, most of whom likely idolize athletes such as LeBron James, Cam Newton and Stephen Curry.

To them, he has one message:

“Everything they [black athletes] do in the public domain should be that which affirms their dignity and their worth,” Beach said.

Activist Brittany Packnett is woke, and she’s empowering others too Her journey of self-discovery fuels her passion to fight for education and black lives and against depression

Culture, education, social and racial activism have all been parts of Ferguson, Missouri, activist and educator Brittany Packnett’s life since she was a toddler. She remembers seeing pictures of herself with her parents at rallies. The photos were a foreshadowing that she wouldn’t escape kismet.

Some 20 years later, she just may be the face of modern-day wokeness.

Packnett, 32, said she doesn’t consider herself famous. She considers herself to be just visible.

“I know I’m more visible than I thought I would be. I didn’t set out for this. I didn’t seek fame or visibility. I’m not an entertainer. I’m not an athlete. I’m not someone who said, ‘I want to be a star.’ I really just love my people a lot. And I love black children a lot. And I want to see us live. I want to see us thrive. I want to see us enjoy the kind of life that our ancestors fought for. And that’s the way that I was raised. I feel like every time I’m able to access some of that joy, I try to hold on to it in my personal life. I just want to see us all be able to live lives of full humanity, ’cause that’s what we deserve. And then all of this other stuff happened. So yeah, it still is a shock for me.”

Packnett is a regular guest on fellow activist DeRay Mckesson’s podcast, Pod Save the People. The two formed a friendship because of their activism. She was recently named one of Essence’s 100 Woke Women. She rose to prominence after Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson at the hands of police. Packnett was outraged, so much so that she knew something needed to be done. So the educator set out to protest, serving as one of the leaders in the Ferguson protest movement. Along with other passionate activists, including Johnetta Elzie and Samuel Sinyangwe, she co-founded Campaign Zero, a campaign centered on police reform and an end to police violence. She was also a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Influenced greatly by her father, who died in 1996 — the Rev. Ronald Packnett, pastor of Central Baptist Church, a large historically black congregation in St. Louis — and her mother, Gwendolyn Packnett, a social worker, she and her younger brother, Barrington, have a sense of community and sharing. Like their father, Barrington Packnett graduated from Yale Divinity school.

“It’s fascinating because when I was on the streets of Ferguson, especially in the first days, people would walk up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re Rev. Packnett’s daughter,’ or ‘You’re Dr. Packnett’s daughter.’ There are folks in St. Louis and still, if my dad were alive, that we wouldn’t actually have been in that kind of crisis, which is really humbling. And it makes me feel even more responsible, not just to our community but to his legacy, to my parents’ legacy, to do good with this platform.”

The St. Louis native earned her bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from Washington University in St. Louis and her master’s degree in elementary education from American University. Packnett is vice president for National Community Alliances at Teach For America. As an activist and change agent, she is a protester and organizer and co-founder of We The Protesters. From joining #BlackLivesMatter to sounding off on the #BlackWomenAtWork social media movements, Packnett is in the midst of activism and keeps the conversation about racial progress going.

She recently spoke to The Undefeated, where she opened up about self-preservation, social activism and her rise in visibility that have shaped her wokeness. For the first time, she speaks up about her battle with depression and a new endeavor.


What was your first moment of activism?

So I don’t think I can remember my first moment of activism. But I do remember the fact that there were no black Santas at any major mall in St. Louis. I had to be about 10 or 11. My father called one of his contacts at one of the local news stations. They came out to the mall and did a story on a rally that he hosted there, and the journalist turned to me and said, ‘Why do you think it’s important to have black Santas at the mall?’ And I didn’t know it at the time because I didn’t have language, but I was essentially talking about representation. I was like, ‘We shop in these stores, we celebrate Christmas too. It would be nice to go and talk to a Santa who looks like me.’ And I remember going to school later that week and some of my friends had seen it, and they were like, ‘I just don’t understand what the big deal is.’ I went to a majority-white school, and they were like, ‘I don’t understand. It’s Santa. It’s just Santa.’

But I was raised to know that in the small things and in the large things, the recognition of our community and humanity matters. Period, end of story. Whether or not other people want to acknowledge it or understand it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

Were there any experiences in high school that shaped you into the activist you are today?

I feel like myself and a half-dozen other folks of all different races started a diversity organization, the very first one in the school’s history. And that meant that among other things, we would do awareness speeches in our morning assemblies. And this white upperclassman did not like the fact that we were doing that, and I ended up being the object of his ire for some reason. He used to follow me around after class … in between classes, rather, and harass me. He would say, ‘Is my whiteness oppressing you today?’ The irony of it is rich, though. You actually are being quite oppressive because you are harassing me and I’m just trying to go to school. But I just ignored him, and then one day I turned around and just told him it wasn’t OK for him to do this, and he spit at me, which was a trauma that I think I … not I think, I know I buried for years. I didn’t talk about it for years.

I ended up going back to my high school in the midst of Ferguson — I want to say about September, October of 2014 — and they asked me to talk about my experience on the streets. And that was the first time I told that story since 2000. It just came up and came out, and I realized that reclaiming my story in a place that could have broken me was a really important step for me to take. So, yeah, to answer your initial question, I kind of don’t remember a time that I wasn’t doing this.

What experiences of activism in college stick out?

You know, college was an interesting time because it was the first experience that I’ve had that I feel like was the intersection of what I really care about now. It was working on an institution that I cared about but it was deeply imperfect, engaging in the act of protest and activism and being unafraid to do so, and also going through my own journey as a black woman and learning to love myself and see my own power to be able to go and effect the kind of change that I wanted to see in the world. And I feel like that is what I do every day now, and college was the first place that I got to live in that intersection and really explore what it meant and take the hits and have the hard days, but also have the moments of triumph.

We also did a lot of work on labor. I was one of the co-founders of an organization called Student Worker Alliance. The group ended up shutting down the administration building. I was on the other side of campus because I was also charity and alumni chair for our junior honorary and our big carnival was that weekend, so I couldn’t shut down the building. So I would, like, run water to the building and come and make sure that people were good and then run back to the carnival and make sure that we were raising money for our charity and that people were enjoying themselves.

I also was really physically ill during a lot of college, so I wasn’t always making the best decisions for my personal health, but I always just wanted to see issues of justice win the day. I was constantly making that sacrifice.

I think my college activism taught me a lot about privilege, because in that instance I was not a member of the most affected. I was not a member of the group that was dealing with the injustice. I was the privileged student swiping my card every day to go get food. I was not going to be fired for my activism. I was not going to be fired for speaking up for this. I was not going to risk losing the ability to put food on my family’s table because I engaged in this. It was important for us to engage in a way that didn’t silence folks who did work on our campus, and people that we were fighting for but also fighting with.

Can you share the physical illness you experienced in college?

Yeah, I had bad ovarian cysts in college. I also really suffered from depression. And so the combination was toxic in a lot of ways. I lost a lot of weight my junior year. I was in a relationship that was not healthy for me. There were lots of classes that I just stopped going to. I think for a week straight, all I ate were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And I just think that it’s hard for people to imagine someone like me that they might see out speaking out about issues, dealing with something that’s very human. We don’t talk about mental illness a lot in the black community, but thankfully my mother is a social worker by trade, and so she knew the signs. And even when I wasn’t ready to talk about what I was feeling, she knew how to hold me up and make sure that I was cared for in the midst of that.

I ended up taking a leave of absence from school, first semester my senior year. It was a medical leave of absence, but I also needed to kind of remove myself from the surroundings that were weighing me down. I came here, to D.C. actually, and interned on the Hill for Congressman Lacy Clay, who’s our congressman from St. Louis. I did that for a semester, and it just felt like a whole new world opened up to me and that I opened up to myself for the first time in a long time. And this idea that social justice could be something I made a living at, I was reminded of the power of my family’s legacy and that I could carry on that mantle, that I didn’t have to wallow in the depths of what I was feeling, that I could actually live for something greater than myself. And that really helped pull me out of where I was.

And I know that depression is something you can’t say, ‘How’d you get over depression?’ It doesn’t happen like that.

Oh, no, I battle it every day. I battle it all the time. Therapy definitely helps. I also just had to make some decisions about who and what I would allow in my space. Managing depression … because that’s really what it is — you don’t get over depression, you can’t cure it, you manage it every single day. I would say that two points in my life where I was deepest in depression were during college: the second half of college or kind of the middle of college, really. I think I came out of it in my senior year. But also … gosh, I would say probably between 2012 and, like, last year. So when I talk about managing depression, it is purely from a place of lived experience. It’s not anything I read in a book or saw in a movie. It is what I have figured out for myself.

And the big difference between 2015, 2016 Brittany and 2017 Brittany is being intentional and deliberate about what I allow in. And so there are a lot of times that I will take a break from social media. I will take a break from watching the news. I had to give myself permission to not be at every protest. So, too, knowing full well that when I have mental instability, it shows up in me physically. Working on ensuring that those kind of triggers that I’ve identified for myself, I can stay away from as much as possible, which also just meant learning how to love people from afar and recognizing that I want everybody to win. I know that everybody is human. I also know what I need to be strong and what I need to feel like myself. And, so, yeah, making those choices has been really important. We talk about self-care all the time, the movement. I’m not an expert at it. I’m actually not very good at it.

Audre Lorde is one of my favorite writers. … I often think about Audre Lorde’s conversations about self-care, when she talks about how, ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ It is still very hard for me to take care of myself intentionally and consistently. But when I am able to remember it, it is because I remember that me surviving all of this and me being here to fight on another day is an act of political warfare. It would be much easier for folks to be able to take out activists and for us to not be here to raise the truth, to sound the alarm. I don’t want to imagine a world where Bri is too tired to climb up the flagpole, or where we’re too tired to march down in Baton Rouge with the activists there.

How do you balance your work with activism and your work with education?

Thankfully, my organization is very supportive, but they also understand that the two aren’t separate. I think people ask me that question often, and for me, I don’t actually balance them because they inform one another. When Michael Brown Jr. was killed, he graduated from a high school where we placed teachers. So when I was running Teach for America in St. Louis, I had teachers that saw him walking down the hallway. And whether or not he was ever taught by one of my teachers isn’t the point, because all of these young people are ours. I think looking at them like they’re all our children would get us out of what we’re dealing with now. And so I stepped out on the streets of Ferguson for the same reason that I stepped into a classroom in 2007. I stepped out on the streets of Baltimore for the same reason that I have remained in education for the last eight years. I stepped out on the streets of Baton Rouge for the same reason that my parents stepped out on the streets that they did, because all of this is deeply interconnected and even if Michael Brown Jr. had lived, there was still so much more that we owed him. He graduated from an unaccredited school. He is someone for whom a diploma should have been a ticket up, but it ended up not being bulletproof in the way that we keep promising our children that it is.

I don’t find that they are separate. Justice work will always be necessary inside the classroom and outside of the classroom. And we educate children in the context of their community. I can’t claim to care about what happens in the four walls of a classroom and not be deeply and gravely concerned about what they deal with as soon as they leave that classroom. So it’s all one and the same for me. I know that I have to keep political conversations very separate, and I have to make sure that I’m doing that kind of stuff on my personal time. But whether it’s education or criminal justice reform or police violence or racial injustice, we are dealing fundamentally with people’s humanity and making sure that all of our systems and institutions fully recognize it. And that is the business that I’m in, shifting institutions and empowering people to be able to live full lives. That’s it. Period. Education or not.

What drives your passion for activism and all of the work you do?

In some ways, it’s from knowing what life can be without that. I remember I started finding a lot of my Twitter conversations, threads and tweets with a heart emoji and a fist emoji. And in my head, I was thinking love and power, right? I didn’t quite know where it was coming from, it just came up. … Then I found a quote from Dr. King where he actually talks about this, and he talks about the fact that we often don’t speak about love and power in combination with one another. We think that they’re oxymorons. We talk about love in a way that lacks power, and so it’s usually anemic and sentimental. We talk about power in ways that lack love, so we talk about power that is reckless and dangerous when wielded the wrong way. But the combination of love and power is actually what’s going to change the world. And that is the thing that I am most obsessed with.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Truthfully, knowing that I was good enough for any of this. There are assumptions we make about people with a lot of visibility, that they’ve got it all together, that they’ve got all the answers, that they are not figuring this out along with everybody else. And I didn’t start to own that I was powerful enough, good enough, strong enough, worthy enough to do the kind of work that I’m doing right now, to have the kind of platform that I have right now until very recently, through very intentional hard work and self-reflection.

What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

This is such a millennial answer. The best piece of advice I received was from Instagram. This is so shameful! I want to tell you it was from President Obama or Valerie Jarrett; I got great advice from them. I want to tell you it was from all these cool people I got to meet over the last few years. There was great advice there. President Obama gave us a good talking-to about being in the work for the long haul, and Valerie and I had good conversations about what a strong pathway looks like and how you consistently increase your aperture and your ability to do more with every step.

But I was scrolling Instagram one day and there was this picture that said, ‘You had a purpose before anyone had an opinion.’

How did you meet DeRay Mckesson?

Oh, Lord. This story. So DeRay and I both taught through the same organization that I still work for, and DeRay was living in Minneapolis at the time. He was working for Minneapolis Public Schools. I wrote a post called Education Didn’t Save Mike Brown, mostly because I wanted people who were questioning my participation in this uprising, who were questioning our students’ participation, a lot of our teachers’ participation in this uprising, to understand why we couldn’t separate justice from teaching and why diplomas are wonderful, important, incredible things but until we fix the systems that are supposed to serve, protect and uplift our students, then those diplomas will never be bulletproof.

So I wrote this piece, and they were about to run it and they were like, ‘We need a picture to go with it.’ So I sent them a picture, I want to say maybe from my second or third night out in Ferguson on West Florissant Avenue. There was a gun line, a skirmish line right behind me, and the symbol we were all using was to hold our hands up. We chant the saying, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ So I’m holding my hands up in front of this gun line. There’s an armored vehicle behind me, and there are police with rifles and all that stuff. DeRay was in the TFA [Teach for America] office when they were about to run the piece, and they were passing the picture back and forth, so DeRay saw the picture. And DeRay was like, ‘I think I need to go down there. I think I’m gonna go down there.’

And there’s a picture of myself, a bunch of our teachers and alums, a couple staff members who were out there of their own volition, and DeRay the first night he was down there. And, yeah, we just started to work together very quickly.

How is the podcast world for you?

So the podcast has been a lot of fun. I’m really thankful to people for listening to it. We called the first episode American Do-over because we were fantasizing about what would happen if everybody just left the White House and we had a whole new election. We just have a nice, American do-over. But I think the podcast represents one of the many ways that we are finding new and creative avenues to engage with folks.

Pod Save the People. So DeRay hosts it, and so DeRay, Sam and I do this segment called My Two Cents in the beginning of each episode. And I think what’s powerful about it is, we are not seasoned politicos, we are not reporters, we’re not official commentators on some network. We are regular people who care a lot about humanity, who care a lot about issues of justice, talking about news that affects us all. So we talk about everything from health care to Michelle Obama’s speaking fees and how Donald Trump was making $1.5 million for speaking fees, so I don’t want to hear about Michelle Obama’s speaking fees in the ways that, honestly, the three of us often talk about things just as friends, as people who care, as black folks who are trying to make a better day.

What’s new for you?

I’ve been very into fashion my whole life, and I taught myself Adobe Illustrator. Well, my boyfriend helped teach it to me. And I can design shirts. I was walking down the street and somebody was wearing my shirt, and I was like, ‘I cannot believe this.’ I’d love to continue figuring out what it looks like to outfit people in a conscious way that both allows people to express what they believe and wear things that they believe in. So I’d love to explore that. But really, I just want to help. … I really want to figure out this intersection of love and power. I really want to help people figure out what it means in their own lives, what it means in how we shift institutions, what it means for how we shift this education game, what it means for how we ensure that the truth is being told and protest on the streets translates into real policy change. I want to make sure that we are using our power, as Dr. King says, to correct everything that stands in love’s way. And so what that will look like, I’m not sure yet. I don’t know what title that would be, I don’t know what job that’ll be, I don’t know what city that’ll be, but I am open to whatever comes, as long as I can ground my feet in love and power.

Misty Copeland discusses her new book, ballet culture and social activism ‘It was important for me to get out there and let people know what I believe in’

Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, sat down with reporters and fans at the National Press Club on Monday to talk about her first health and fitness book, Ballerina Body: Dancing and Eating Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger, and More Graceful You.

The 34-year-old has had an active couple of months, traveling to Cuba to spread classical dance and also speaking out against Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who made remarks that were supportive of President Donald Trump. When Under Armour began its sponsorship of Copeland in 2014, she became the first classical dancer with a sports brand endorsement.

Since starting her ballet career at age 13, Copeland has become an author and public speaker and was recognized as one of Time Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People in 2015.

Copeland answered questions about her book, which was released March 21, how she came back from a near career-ending injury, her activism and more before heading to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

What’s your relationship like with Kevin Plank since you’ve spoken out? Was there any frostiness after that? Is he still behind you 100 percent?

I’d say we’re probably closer now. … He and I have always had a very close relationship, and so I think everyone was a little taken aback by his comments that were taken out of context. … I know that it’s been very important for me. In the beginning this is so exciting. This is the first time a classical dancer has been given an endorsement with a sports brand. It’s a really big deal, and it’s brought so much attention and recognition and education to the American people, in terms of showing them that dancers are athletes and all that it takes to get there. At this point, I feel it’s not just me that represents Under Armour — Under Armour represents me. Steph Curry and Dwayne Johnson, they both agreed with me in that we have a responsibility as African-Americans to represent ourselves in a true and real way. … It was important for me to get out there and let people know what I believe in.

The Trump administration is proposing massive cuts and the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. How is this going to affect the push to see more dancers and artists of color?

Of course, I’m not happy [about the proposed cuts.] I think that right now is an even more important time for arts to have a voice and to stand up for what’s right for this country. I often speak about the opportunity I had when I traveled to Rwanda, and I worked with a program called Mind at Ease, and to be able to see the benefits of what dance can do for a child. … I’d love to start my own foundation [not right now] and be a place for people to turn to.

How did the Boys and Girls Club change your life?

Being able to go to a community center that had positive role models there and a real structure as a young child who didn’t have a lot of structure in my household, I think that it really saved me and it really set me up for the path that I’m on. I also would have never been introduced to classical ballet had I not been a member of the Boys and Girls Club. That’s where I took my first ballet class, on a basketball court there. They’ve been such a big part of forming who I am today. … I think it’s so important to have community centers like that, especially in underprivileged communities.

Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, spoke to Jeff Ballou, president of The National Press Club, during a press event in the Holeman Lounge of The National Press Club on Monday, April 17, 2017.

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Are you going to advocate for better grocery store selection in tough neighborhoods so people can have a balanced diet?

It was extremely difficult for me as a child [to consistently find healthy food options]. I think it’s something that would’ve helped me early on, is just the knowledge of what’s not good for me and that there are ways to make the right choices even if you don’t have fresh vegetables around you. My mother didn’t cook, so I grew up for weeks at a time eating a cup of noodles every night for dinner. … I think having that strong base as a child [of knowing how to eat well] is going to make it so much easier as an adult when you have the ability to make those decisions for yourself and get the things you need.

Are you an advocate of having proper meals in schools?

Absolutely. I definitely stand behind it. I think starting as young as possible and understanding how much nutrition plays a role in health for the rest of your life. I think a lot of Americans think if I’m physically fit or active I’m healthy, but what you’re putting into your body is more than half of it.

[What do you hope will be the] takeaway from Ballerina Body?

I hope that they feel an opportunity to start fresh no matter what age they are. That they see something that’s really attainable and it’s about looking at your life and your lifestyle different than just, ‘I’m just going to try this and it’s a fad and see if it works,’ but maybe that it just makes them look at how they approach their lives in a different way.

What advice would you give readers of how to get through a near-break-point experience?

I had surgery five years ago now. I had six stress fractures, and I was told by more than a handful of doctors that I’d never dance again. I found the one doctor who said I will, and he’s the one who performed my surgery. During that process of healing, I didn’t allow myself to step back and look at what could be. I took every single day one day at a time and being really present in the moment of each day. Like, what can I do today? I can’t walk, so I’m going to lay on the floor and work on my arms. I’m going to do something that’s going to further me and make me better when I get back to the stage. Working in small increments allowed me to not get overwhelmed. Of course there were days that I crumpled and said I can’t do this, but having that support of ‘Yes, you can’ and ‘You’re going to start again tomorrow,’ I think just looking at things that way and enjoying the process.

Since you’ve come on, have you noticed a change in attitude in classical ballet? Has it been more accommodating to women of different sizes and shapes?

I’m going to say no. I think it’s become a conversation and acknowledgement from the ballet world that I’ve never seen before. I think to even just put it out there, my experiences that African-American dancers, in particular, have been told they don’t have the right bodies for generations and generations. For me, I think that’s the way of saying you don’t have the right skin color. I think just addressing these issues is making these professional companies wake up and realize the world is looking at them, and it’s not acceptable to not accept more diversity in your companies.

Misty Copeland stretches while participating in a class with the Cuban National Ballet in Havana.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

How have you innovated ballet?

I don’t know if I have a signature movement. I think something that makes me unique is the way I hear music, and I think that has a lot to do with the music I grew up with and around and the fact that I didn’t start dancing until super late. It allows me a bit more freedom in how I interpret what I hear. … I was listening to Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin and creating in my own mind what I thought dance was.

How’d you meet Prince, and what do you think his impact is?

I met Prince a long time ago. He reached out to me and asked me to be in a music video of his. I was still a new soloist with the company, so I was like, ‘How does he even know who I am, and why does he want me in his music video?’ When I met him, I agreed to work with him because I knew I’d have an opportunity to reach more people and a completely different audience than maybe are coming to see the ballet. I ended up working with him over the course of five years, just touring the world with him, and I feel like in that time and being on stage with him and seeing him live right in front of me really made me the artist that I am today. He forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. I think his impact on the world will live on forever. I’m just so grateful for the time that I had with him and for him being so unique and pushing the boundaries and not fitting into the stereotypical mold — especially as a black man.

What’s on your playlist?

I’ve been listening to Solange and Frank Ocean … some old Mariah Carey. I love Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin. I’m very open in terms of music, but at this point I like things that make me think.

Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins speak at congressional forum on community-police relations For the second time in six months, NFL players visit Capitol Hill to push for change

During a congressional forum on building trust between the nation’s communities and police, a 36-year-old black man sat before several prominent African-American leaders and delivered chilling testimony about his cousin, who died in October 2015 at the hands of a plainclothes officer.

Corey Jones was driving home from a show with his church band around 2 a.m. when his car broke down on the side of a Florida highway. A white cargo van pulled up, and out of it emerged Officer Nouman Raja in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt. In the ensuing moments, Raja fired six shots, and Jones was dead.

“I wish I could tell you Corey’s story was unique. I wish I could tell you that now, over a year later, we know exactly what happened and that the issue was resolved,” the man told U.S. Reps. Lacy Clay (D-Missouri), Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan), John Conyers (D-Michigan), Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana) and Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“I wish I could tell you Corey didn’t die in the first place. As a matter of fact, I wish I wasn’t here talking to you at all, but I am.”

That man was free-agent wide receiver and Super Bowl champion Anquan Boldin. To the right of him was Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins, who also testified, primarily on juvenile mass incarceration, and answered questions from members of Congress as part of a panel called “NFL Players Speak Up: First-Hand Experiences and Building Trust Between Communities and Police.”

General view of the congressional forum to hear from NFL players about their own experiences and how they hope to improve relationships with minority communities and the police while supporting programs to help inmates successfully re-enter their communities at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

The forum concluded a three-day trip to Capitol Hill for Boldin and Jenkins, who were joined by Detroit Lions cornerback Johnson Bademosi, former NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth and Joe Briggs, the NFL Players Association’s (NFLPA) public policy counsel.

“Let me thank you all for stepping off the field and stepping back into the real life that you all lived before you made it to the NFL and before you played in college. To get out of your comfort zone, but to actually give back and fight for issues that are critical,” Richmond said in his opening statement to the forum. “We don’t see it enough. But you all do it, and most of our African-American male athletes do it, you just don’t get the attention for it. You only get the attention for doing the wrong thing, but when you’re doing the right thing you don’t get as much attention, so let me thank you.”

This week marked the second time in six months that NFL players have traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for social justice. In November 2016, Boldin, Jenkins, Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin, then-Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins engaged in preliminary meetings on police brutality and racial injustice with members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).

The first trip, Jenkins said, was just to get their feet wet. The second time around, he and Boldin prepared for — and had — deeper discussions.

“It was much more productive. We obviously had a lot more meetings, got in front of a lot more people. I felt like we were heard,” the 29-year-old Jenkins said. “The biggest part is just continuing to show up, continuing to advocate, gaining support and trying to get this as high up on the list of priorities to actually get it pushed through.”

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles shakes hands with a guest at the congressional forum.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

Jenkins, who has gone on a ride-along with Philadelphia police and visited a prison to speak with inmates since the start of the last NFL season, credited Boldin for getting him involved in political reform. Together, they have united on a complementary front, with Boldin seeking increased trust between communities and police through governmental funding for police training, while Jenkins focuses on juvenile mass incarceration and the need for more resources for individuals released from prison.

“I wanted to partner with like-minded people. Two heads are better than one,” Boldin said. “Whenever you can balance out ideas off different people and hear different perspectives, I think that’s always better because I can have a concern and I can just come at it from one angle. To hear different people, especially people that are passionate about the same causes that you are, I think it makes it even better.”

While former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been the poster child of the renaissance the NFL (and sports in general) is experiencing with players speaking out on social justice issues, Boldin’s wake-up call came long before Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem.

“For me, my cousin was killed before the whole protesting began. I began to speak out then. Unfortunately, my voice wasn’t heard until guys started to protest,” Boldin said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s that way. But if that’s what had to happen for this issue to be pushed to the forefront, then so be it. For me, I would partner with anybody who has a legitimate cause and concern about any injustices. I’m not concerned about who gets credit for doing whatever. I’m just about making change.”

After the testimony from Boldin and Jenkins, Richmond pledged full support for the two NFL players as those who sat before them challenged President Donald Trump to “get out of his comfort zone,” Richmond said, and begin comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system.

“We are committed. … The legacy of the people you see up here is a legacy of hard work to change it,” said Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “To the extent that we both can elevate our voice together, I think we should do that.”

Before the forum concluded, Cummings posed one question: Is there anyone else in the NFL looking to get involved?

“There are a lot of guys that have concerns about what’s going on in their communities and across the nation that are looking for ways to get involved,” Jenkins responded. “They’re not sure what to do, but they do want to put in some work. And that’s kind of what me and Anquan are doing, is really trying to blaze that trail for them to follow along.”

To consolidate that effort among players, Jenkins said, the NFLPA recently established a community engagement committee, with criminal justice reform on the list of the issues they’re hoping to address.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles and Anquan Boldin of the Detroit Lions speak at a congressional forum to hear from NFL players about their own experiences and how they hope to improve relationships with minority communities and the police while supporting programs to help inmates successfully re-enter their communities at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Tasos Katopodis for The Undefeated

“For us, we’re just trying to create a safe haven for guys to be active in their communities because — I mean, just being honest — guys are concerned about their livelihood,” Boldin added. “So we’re trying to make it to where our guys don’t have to be afraid to speak out and would be more than willing to step up to the plate.”

Boldin and Jenkins vowed that the visits to Washington will continue. Perhaps the next time they’ll have more NFL representatives beside them.