Social Justice Game Changers Spotlight Keys for Change During Orlando Magic’s Virtual Town Hall

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Esu Ma’at, the Orlando Magic’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, asked the million dollar question to an esteemed panel during the fourth installment of the Magic’s Black History Month virtual town hall series, which addressed and analyzed social justice issues.

“What does success actually look like? Where should we be five years from now, ten years from now? What evidence is there that we are making progress on these issues?,” he asked, with Desmond Meade, the executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, one of the five panelists on the Zoom call to respond.

“The work that we are doing collectively, I believe will lead us five, ten years from now for a more engaged electorate, where we no longer have to sacrifice the safety of marginalized communities to make a small select few group of people feel safe and that it would be a more collaborative effort,” the voting rights activist said. “There’s a strong throughline that will connect communities, activists, corporate America and even fortune entertainment industries that basically tear down these walls that divide us as people, lifting up the fact that we are all a creation of a higher power that’s worthy of being treated with dignity and respect, and that more engaged electorate would have more control over the destiny over their communities. If we’re able to tear down barriers that separate us and become more engaged electorally and have a say in who’s our sheriff, who’s our state attorney, who’s our judges, who’s our mayor, who’s our councilwoman (or) a councilman, who’s our governor, that we will create the new democracy that we want to see.”

Sharing in that passion and enthusiasm for social change were the four other speakers on the call, including Dr. Randy Nelson with Bethune Cookman University Center for Law & Social Justice, Miles Mulrain with Let Your Voice Be Heard, Rachel Allen with Valencia Peace & Justice Institute and Monique Worrell, the state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court for the State of Florida.

The way Worrell sees it, it’s about everyone doing their part and not prioritizing particular issues but rather recognizing that all matters need attention and resolution. The key is to tackle every problem one step at a time, and to achieve that in full, it’s about working together and fighting endlessly for fairness and equity.

“When I took office, I had a list of things two pages long that I wanted to accomplish, not in my first term but like in my first week. I was like, okay, I need to do this and I need to do that and I’m looking at the list and I’m like, how am I going to do all those things and the answer is one thing at a time,” she said. “I’m just going to keep going and I’m going to do one thing at a time and each thing is going to be difficult and have its own complexity but that cannot stop me from accomplishing that what is set out.”

All five of Wednesday’s panelists are honorees of Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford’s Social Justice Game Changer program, which recognizes local leaders who have made a difference in the realm of social justice issues. A cause close to his heart, Clifford is extremely active in programs that support equality and justice for all people in the Central Florida community.

Through this program, Clifford looks to put the spotlight on those continuously doing the hard work, day in and day out, fighting for sustainable change. As part of his program, one person is selected and honored each game. The honorees are given tickets, provided by Clifford, to the game and featured in-arena on the Magic Vision screen at center court.

“The purpose is to honor and to celebrate so many of the people in the Orlando community who are fighting for change and who commit their lives to making Orlando a better place,” Clifford said. “It’s just a way to celebrate them, what they stand for, and what they do for our community.”

Both Meade and Nelson gave analogies during the town hall that really nails home the divide and discrepancies that exist across the nation. The key underlining message is that just because something isn’t directly affecting you or your family doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

“When you hear that mantra of Black Lives Matter that has in some cases been bastardized and in some cases has been manipulated (and) the true meaning coming from that is not saying that the arm is better than a leg,” Meade said. “We know that they are all part of the body and they are all important to this body of human race but (what) the Black Lives Matter represents is the same thing it represents when you’re out there jogging and you twist your ankle. Your ankle sends a message to the brain saying that there’s a problem down there. And when you’re ankle is telling you there’s a problem, your wrist is not going to respond but my wrist matters too. No, it’s saying that part of the collective body is hurting and we’ve been in pain and we’ve been experiencing these traumas and something needs to be done because if that’s not fixed it’s going to affect other parts of the body, whether it’s your knee, your back or whatever. The same way we need to understand (this), in our respective areas that we know we are prioritizing is because of the trauma and the pain that has been signaled to us, but it’s not separate, it is actually addressing the entire body.”

“Imagine gun violence as if it was coronavirus. They developed a vaccine in five months that sometimes take ten years. Just imagine if that same effort and care went towards the violence that we see in our community,” Nelson said. “It’s the collective will of the people. And when it affects everybody, and coronavirus affects everybody so everybody is all in…I think that that’s what our work is and that’s calling on the good folk that has been silent to come to the table.”

A hands-on-deck approach will make sizeable change, and that’s what Meade, Worrell, Nelson, Allen and Mulrain are hoping the people of Central Florida and beyond will think deeply about and incorporate into their daily lives and actions.

“We need to have that kind of empathy and that same kind of frame (of mind) where we just tackle all economic issues, and we can tackle these gaps that we see when it comes to how people are treated because it’s not just only about race, it’s not only about gender, it’s about humanity, it’s about doing the right thing and it’s about equity and that doesn’t mean we make it even right now. That means we go back and fix the things that were done wrong and then once we level the playing field now we can start working on equality and I think that’s what we need to see more of,” Mulrain said.

An in-game Black History Month celebration will take place on Saturday when the Magic host the Utah Jazz at 8 p.m. During the game, the Magic will recognize and honor the many accomplishments and contributions of African Americans in the Central Florida community. The Magic will host local African American community leaders at the game with the night featuring various organizations including the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, Black Business Inititiave Fund, Black-owned business honorees, Valencia College Poetry Slam winners. The night will also feature the Social Justice Game Changer, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

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