February is Black History Month in the United States.
But for LeBron James, celebrating and recognizing the African American experience requires more than 28 days.
“Black History Month is every month,” he said after a recent Lakers game. “They just happened to give us the shortest month of the year. But Black History Month is all 12 months for me. We celebrate Black excellence every single day, every single day of the year, 365 days, and go around and around my house in my household and the group of people I’m around.
“I love the fact that we get to celebrate it for a full month, and people that may not know about it kind of come together and things (like that), but at the end of the day, I celebrate Black excellence every single day … that’s just how we rock around here. It’s cool to get it started now, and we’ll just keep it going throughout the rest of the year and January of 2022.”
The 2020 calendar year was immensely challenging for myriad reasons, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. One such death is unthinkable, and yet, it was but one of so many, albeit the one that set off national protests centered around the fundamental truth that Black Lives Matter.
Part of how the Lakers have attempted to understand what’s been going on in the country was to hire Dr. Karida Brown as the Director of Racial Equity & Action. A tenure-track tenure-track Assistant Professor in both the Department of African American Studies and the Department of Sociology at UCLA, Dr. Brown created a curriculum to help the Lakers staff better comprehend how to be antiracist advocates towards creating change.
“We are very happy to have Dr. Brown join the team,” said Lakers COO & President of Business Operations Tim Harris at the time of her hiring. “She will play a key role in implementing educational programming on race and racism for our employees and helping us focus on racial equity in our day-to-day functions, as well as empowering the organization to identify ways to be more active participants in affecting real change.”
Around Election Day in November, Dr. Brown spoke about some of the changes she’s observed.
Several Lakers have been involved in furthering that cause, none more so than LeBron, who went so far as to start an organization called “More Than A Vote,” with the following mission statement:
“We are Black athletes and artists working together. Our priority right now is combating systemic, racist voter suppression by educating, energizing, and protecting our community.”
“What LeBron James is doing with “More Than A Vote” goes back to winning a championship both on and off the court,” said Dr. Brown. “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.”
LeBron doesn’t need any recognition for what he’s doing, however. He just wants to see change.
“I don’t live my life trying to gain recognition for anything,” he said. “You do what’s right, you call out what’s wrong and you go from there.”
LeBron and several of his teammates weighed in further upon what Black History Month means to them:
LeBron James: “Unity and love. That’s the best message you can give throughout Black History Month. Also remembering the ones who laid the groundwork and the path to be here today, and to be able to celebrate them on a day-to-day basis … There are a lot of Black athletes I grew up admiring: Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey Jr, Penny Hardaway, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, Oscar Robertson, Mike Tyson, Jim Brown, and Michael Johnson to name a few.”
Anthony Davis: “We definitely appreciate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and everything he has done for us. We need to continue to push the needle to constantly create change.”
Kyle Kuzma: “There have been many athletes I grew up admiring, whether it was Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, or Usain Bolt. So many athletes that stood for so much more than just sports.”
Dennis Schroder: “This Black History Month, I want people to know that everyone is equal and I think that everyone is the same.”
THT: “Greater times are ahead and things will actually become better.”
Montrezl Harrell: “I look to people like my dad, my manager who was my AU coach since I was 14, who is my manager today. Those are Black leaders to me because my dad left school early to take care of my and I brother, my manager was providing out of his pockets for me, his son and our friends playing on his AU team to showcase our talents and to give us the opportunity to try to make a life for ourselves so that’s how I look at it as Black leaders around in my neighborhood and my lifestyle.”
Wesley Matthews: “To me, Black History Month means education, it is something that needs to be educated about all the time. A month is not enough to learn the history of American culture. I am Black, but I am an American. My history is different from other people’s history, but are all on this planet together, we are in America together.”