Trapped in a smelly van with seven teenage AAU basketball players, exhausted from a week of high-level competition in a major Adidas basketball tournament, I felt relieved when I drove past a sign that read Richmond, Virginia. It meant I was only an hour and a half from home. After driving eight hours to Aiken, South Carolina, then a week of traveling to and from the tournament site, the house we rented, restaurants and staying up until four in the morning we playing NBA 2K16, cracking jokes, playing tricks on each other and arguing about the top 10 point guards in the NBA (which abruptly ended when someone said they'd take DJ Augustine over Tony Parker); my home was the sweetest thing I could ever imagine.
It was about 5:30 in the evening driving through Richmond. The traffic was light considering it was rush hour. I knew I was skating on thin ice because I could feel traffic was going to pile up. Just as the thought crossed my mind - the ice broke - traffic! It was odd, there was more traffic than I would usually see in Richmond. Or, I was severely irritated because it seemed like the end of this trip was pretty well off into the immediate future. As we inched through the traffic I noticed flashing lights from a fire truck. At first, I assumed there was an accident but quickly realized there was no damage in sight. My eyes rotated from the fire truck back to the road. I caught a glimpse of a bridge about 150 yards ahead of me with a banner sailing in the wind that I chose not to read. If there wasn't an accident, I didn't want to cause one, so I checked the road instead. As soon as I was comfortable with my driving position I read the banner. "Black Lives Matter," it read. Surprised the city let the banner hang, I heard a chant of "Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter!" grow increasingly louder as we approached the underpass of the bridge. Approximately 14 protesters were holding up traffic heading south on Interstate 95. They were all white and they held a sign that said, "White Silence Is Violence." A powerful message expressing the notion that police brutality is not just a black problem, it's an American problem.
This was a teachable moment for my guys, a learning experience that may have a lasting influence on their life. We discussed responsibility, leadership, the voice they have as individuals and the difference a group can make by banding together; the same way we overcame obstacles throughout the week to defeat some tough basketball teams. Earlier in the week, when Anthony gathered fellow star athletes Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James to speak out at the 2016 ESPY Awards, it was a topic of conversation as we gathered in the kitchen of the house we rented to eat dinner. We discussed Carmelo Anthony's stance and why he is calling for athletes to stand together. They shared their experience with the police, good and bad. I also shared mine. Witnessing the Black Lives Matter protest helped us to extend the conversation and discuss ways we can make a difference in our own community.
Anthony's leadership on the court has been questioned. Is that the leadership that really matters? I don't think so, his leadership in society is what matters and it should go unquestioned. He's built basketball courts in Puerto Rico and in Brooklyn, N.Y., he sponsors the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center in Baltimore, Maryland, he marched for Freddie Gray and he's using his voice and platform to make a difference in our nation. “My next thing is to do something in L.A. when we go there. A town hall,” Anthony said in an interview with The Undefeated. “Get guys in the community in L.A., the important people. They need to hear the community voices and vice versa whether it’s police, whether it’s politicians, whether it’s mayors, whether it’s governors, white people, black people, Mexicans, whoever. I want everybody there having voices."
When young men see an athlete with Anthony's prominence step forward, it inspires them to find their niche; their role in having a positive impact in their community, city, nation and ultimately the world. My players live forty-five minutes from West Baltimore where Anthony grew up. He's a local hero, someone who escaped a community that traps so many, someone that used their talent to create success and is now using that success for the better good of the community. Anthony no longer lives in West Baltimore and probably isn't being harassed by police, but he has the street credibility to garner the respect of youth living in conditions where police brutality is most prominent. Too often young black men see and mimic the wrong example of leadership and it steers them down the path of least redemption. So Anthony's voice is needed, it is powerful and his actions are setting an example of leadership; the type of leadership that young black men need to grow more accustomed.