Election Day Q&A With Dr. Karida Brown

Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, is Election Day.

The right to make one’s voice heard in American democracy is as fundamental and important as any other. To help us further understand, and to shine a light on what the Lakers have been doing to encourage and support this right, Lakers Director, Racial Equity & Action, Dr. Karida Brown, joined us for a Q&A.

The transcript of our conversation is below:

MT: Tuesday is Election Day, and I wondered, since you were brought in for this special purpose with the Lakers, how much does the push for racial equity and antiracism that you’ve been spearheading tie into voting?
Dr. Karida Brown: It all culminates to this moment. Voting and civic engagement at all levels is just wrapped into our history of the importance of enfranchisement, and every single American having the right and access to use their voice to shape our Democracy. This is a historical election, an unprecedented election, and one of the most important elections that we’ll experience in our lifetimes. And it’s obvious that the American people get that because, already, 93 million Americans and counting have already voted. This is historic and unprecedented. As of Sunday, Nov. 1st, for L.A. County alone, 38 percent of registered voters have already voted. We’ve almost eclipsed the total number of voters in the county from the 2016 election already. That speaks to the importance of this election and taps into the pulse of the American people. We understand that this is one where we’ve gotta turn out.

MT: Ideally, people have a chance to educate themselves about for what they’re voting, about what issues and platforms are most important to them. Especially as an educator, do you tie that message together about voting, and doing our best to understand what we’re working with?
Dr. Brown: Know better, do better. Learning and educating oneself is a lifelong endeavor, and that includes how we can really show up in this area of civic engagement, not only learning about the officials that we’re considering electing, what their platforms and records are thus far, but the bills and legislation are super important to sit with and educate oneself on. With the internet, and social media – hopefully not too much disinformation – we have so much access to information where we can do the work and take responsibility for educating ourselves. For the state of California alone, there are 12 very important propositions that are up this year that are going to shape the lives of every Californian. It behooves us to understand the props beyond the title, and really get an unbiased understanding of what’s in those proposals, and be active about informing voters as well. Lastly, on the education piece, it’s also super important to just refresh ourselves every couple years on the civic engagement process. When I was growing up, it was the cartoon infomercial about “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill” that explained to kids how our government works. That was informative, and we should continue to refresh ourselves on how policies are passed and how much power we really have to exercise. This is a democracy. We have great influence on how our country is run, and if you don’t like something, get out there and vote.

MT: How do race and ethnicity, especially as related to voter suppression, impact the way you think about elections?
Dr. Brown: It’s also important to recognize the particular histories of various racial and ethic groups, and what it took to get the vote. We cannot take for granted that all American citizens have historically always had the right to vote. For African Americans particularly, that is something that our ancestors fought and many of them died for. Mike, it’s only been, less than 100 years that black people in America have had the right to vote*. If you really think about what that says about our democracy, you see why certain traditions around voting are apparent: political scientists have documented that, traditionally, African Americans vote in person. That has a lot to do with trust in the system and the process and ensuring that one’s vote counts, and also symbolically, it’s part of a tradition to honor their elders and their ancestors for what that vote means, and what those ancestors fought and died for. We’re seeing that, here in California, Governor Newsome issued an executive order ensuring that every registered voter in the state received a mail-in ballot. That executive order was super important in the context of the global coronavirus pandemic, because he wanted to make sure that no one had to risk their life unduly to go out and vote. So yes, that was super important, but I looked at the data, and almost half of Californians are still choosing to vote in person. Why is that in the midst of a global pandemic? It’s that important to people to not only cast their vote and have their voices heard, but there’s something to being able to do it in person.
*The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

MT: Absolutely. In my case, I wanted to get my ballot in as soon as possible to ensure that it got counted, so after doing the research, I filled it out and dropped it at an official location. And then I tracked the ballot online to ensure that it was accepted. I know this differs from state to state, county to county, city to city, but there are many areas dealing with voter suppression that seems in such direct opposition to the country’s laws.
Dr. Brown: We do live in a context of voter suppression. That is a reality. I would hypothesize that that’s a major motivating factor for not only the level turnout we’re seeing, but the form in which folks are turning out. That’s why I’m so very proud of what we’ve done as a franchise to directly intervene in enhancing our democracy through sponsoring not one, but three polling places throughout the city of Los Angeles.

What’s well known is that we partnered with AEG, the Kings and the Sparks to sponsor the STAPLES CENTER, and it’s just a beautiful experience there. With the safety and health concerns we have to have, offering a stadium during this pandemic is a huge intervention, because you can go right downtown and vote on Election Day. All transportation units are free. The parking lots are free. And then you have this capacious, open, socially-distanced voting experience that’s beautiful, and then there’s a step and release where you get to take cool selfies at the STAPLES CENTER. Lesser known, but I dare say even more important, we as a franchise took the extra step to also work with the county registrar to sponsor two additional locations: Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles, and Salesian High School in Boyle Heights. As of Sunday, we had a total of 3,000 in-person voters at our three locations, Staples, Crenshaw and Salesian High School … and that’s not counting drop off ballots. Those locations were intentional because we know that black and Latinx concentrated neighborhoods are historically underserved when it comes to polling stations. We also know that black and Latinx Americans are three and four times as likely to contract coronavirus. So when you start layering on all those systemic structural disadvantages, that really puts into context why it was so important for us to take that extra step and make sure that we reached out and offered these polling places at those additional locations. We have many of our Lakers employees out there volunteering also alongside the county officials that are actually doing the polls. We are showing up and showing out in a big way. When I think about the championship we won on the court, we’re also doing our part to leave a legacy off the court as well, and that is tremendous.

MT: Could you take behind the scenes a bit as to how the polling places developed, as you worked with Lakers CEO/Governor Jeanie Buss and Lakers President, Business Operations, Tim Harris to try and make change for the better?
Dr. Brown: This was not an easy feat, or a foregone conclusion that we’d be able to do this. We lease the STAPLES CENTER, we do not own it, so we had to make sure that all stakeholders involved were comfortable in a position to act on this, and that we could deliver on the safety piece. This wasn’t just a Lakers decision. We had to work with L.A. County, with our partners at AEG and the Sparks and the Kings, with public health officials to make this happen. It’s also important to note that it’s unprecedented in United States history. Never before in American history have sports franchises intervened in the political process by offering their stadiums, so there were a lot of unknowns. We had to figure this out by the seat of our pants. I give tremendous credit and pride to Jeanie Buss and Tim Harris for taking the leadership on this, and doing what it took to make this thing a reality. Because, again, it was no easy feat.

MT: From the outside looking in, what have you made of what LeBron James has done in taking the leadership role for “More Than A Vote,” about which he spoke extensively when he was in the Florida Bubble with his teammates during the playoff run?
Dr. Brown: What LeBron James is doing with “More Than A Vote” goes back to winning a championship both on and off the court. That to me is the ultimate hallmark of what we’re trying to convey with our theme this year of leaving a legacy. That’s how you do it. This year especially has reminded all of us, and demonstrated for all of us, the extreme influence and platform that professional athletes have, and I’m so very proud of what they’ve done standing up for issues of racial justice, voter participation and civic engagement and a host of other issues. They’ve taken on real roles of leaders. And as the Director, Racial Equity & Action on the business side of the team, what they have demonstrated to me is that we all have a part to play. It is not just the responsibility of our colleagues on the court to take up these mantels. There is so much that we can do as a franchise and an organization to also step up and do our part in that leadership role, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done on this side with the polling places.

MT: How would you gauge what’s hopefully been progress around you since you came to the Lakers on these issues, not just with voting, but a movement towards antiracism and racial equity?
Dr. Brown: Yes. I call this moment in history the Red Hot Summer of 2020. The multiple killings and maiming of unarmed black people in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has really shown us a couple of things: 1) we are all connected, whether we want to be or not, and within our ecosystem, we have responsibilities to one another; 2) we are dealing with two pandemics, this health crisis, but also the global pandemic of systemic racism. I think because we were all made to sit down during the summer, it created a moment to really see the way that systemic racism in the United States is and always has been part and parcel to the black experience in this country. I can tell you that across the board, Mike, I’ve seen a shift in consciousness that this moment has created where so many people of all generational levels across race, ethnicity, faith, have really stood up in this moment. There’s been a great collective attempt to rise to the occasion. What does that mean? We all have work to do, and as far as I’m concerned, much of that starts with education…

MT: No doubt.
Dr. Brown: …We all have a responsibility to continue to educate ourselves about not only the history of racism in this country, but also gaining an understanding of what is systemic racism? That goes beyond individual, good person/bad person or one anecdotal experience here or there. It’s about how does racial inequity and inequality manifest itself systemically through our institutions. The education system, labor markets, you name it. That is something that we all can educate ourselves on, and I’ve seen a huge shift in my own profession. I’m a professor at UCLA, and I teach a class every year on race and ethnicity. I usually have to spend the first couple weeks getting all of my students in a place where we have common language around systemic racism … not anymore, Mike. It’s a part of public lexicon now. That goes beyond the classroom. When I open the newspaper or watch a YouTube clip, and everyday people have a framework for understanding (systemic racism). That’s a shift. That was not the case even five years ago.

But I have to emphasize: we can’t pat ourselves on the back and stop with the education. You know better, so you can do better. Through that educational process, it’s incumbent upon all of us to ask within my sphere of influence – whether with your expertise, your profession, your volunteer hours, your money – what can I do to make this place a little better than it was when I came here. That’s the work. How do you translate what you know into action that is meaningful and that works to redress inequity from a systemic perspective?

MT: Sports can be a great equalizer in bringing people of many different perspectives, races, political parties and so on around the world together towards one positive thing, one shared passion. There are Lakers fans, of course, all over the world, united by Purple and Gold. How have you observed that intersection?
Dr. Brown: Sports and society is so important. Sports is one of the few global realms, beyond national borders, where people can really come together based on their fandom. That’s transcendent in a way, and that’s why we have such a great opportunity as a franchise to have influence in society, and to recognize that more. The Lakers have millions and millions of fans worldwide, and with that platform comes tremendous responsibility. Going back to this Red Hot Summer of 2020, it’s opened up for us a recognition that in this area of committing to being an antiracist organization, it’s important internally, but also for our peers. Hopefully it will reverberate through the sports community, and through our many partners and fans. I’m proud to say that we have so much going on in terms of our action plan that we will soon release to the public, and our hope is that others will join us in this walk. We’ve been socialized in the United States not to talk about race – you leave that alone. And that colorblindness, that willful unseeing is one of the main factors that reproduces racial inequity and racial injustice. If you don’t see it, and you tell yourself you don’t see it, then you can’t identify it or come up with solutions to fix it. That’s really what we’re doing here when we’re saying moving from a non-racist organization to an antiracist organization. It’s saying, we see race, we recognize that systemic racism and racial inequity is a problem, and we are choosing to make changes at the institutional level that will help us level that playing field.

MT: Finally, could you share what you’ve been working on internally with the Lakers, which really could benefit anybody?
Dr. Brown: The Lakers organization has committed to a learn-and-do process. We’re doing our homework, and what we’re doing to walk our walk is commit to a 13-week speaker series, where we have focused the curricula on different aspects of systemic racism to make sure that we as an organization have a common framework and language around that. We’ve brought in experts, primarily academics who study this day in and day out and are at the top of their game. They came in and helped us get started on our educational journey, understanding that we can continue that process. In addition to the speaker series, I’ve worked tirelessly, myself and my associate Omar Abdulkarim, to learn the organization and develop a strategic action plan around racial equity so that we can do our part within our own sphere of influence. Staying in our lane, but using the skills and power and influence that we have as a franchise to do our part, to intervene in uprooting systemic racism. We do plan to make that action plan public because we want to be accountable for what we say we’re committing to.

MT: Thanks so much for your work and your time!
Dr. Brown: Thank you!