ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic continue to develop new and innovative ways to enhance their unwavering commitment to pursuing social justice and striving for meaningful and peaceful change.
The team tipped off Black History Month on Wednesday by hosting the first of four scheduled virtual town halls in February that will focus on topics such as diversity, equity, inclusion and policy reform.
Magic CEO Alex Martins, Head Coach Steve Clifford, guard Michael Carter-Williams and Chief Diversity Officer Esu Ma'at represented the organization on the town hall, hosted by Monica May, as many season ticket holders, staff, partners, community members, and fans virtually attended.
“It’s an opportunity for us to keep the conversation going and continue to bring awareness,” Clifford explained. “People haven’t really seen, I don’t think, behind the scenes how much work is being done within the organization just because of the pandemic. There are a lot of initiatives that once the world gets back to more normal so that people within our organization can get out and work in the community. There are a lot of great ideas I think that we’ll be able to work at.”
From the moment the Magic stepped foot on the NBA campus at Walt Disney World for last season’s restart wearing shirts that read, “GET OFF THE BENCH, GET INTO THE GAME, VOTE,” the organization’s commitment to bringing about social change and combatting racism has been delivered loud and clear.
Carter-Williams has participated in peaceful protests and has served on panels with local officials and police officers to discuss topics of race and inclusion. Magic center Mo Bamba was extremely active in encouraging people to get out and vote as the team worked with the City of Orlando, Orange County and Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles to open Amway Center as a voter registration and early voting site.
During that time, the team partnered with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which is recognized for its work on voting and criminal justice reform issues. It’s charged by President and Executive Director Desmond Meade, who led the FRRC to a historic victory in 2018 with the successful passage of Amendment 4, a grassroots citizen’s initiative which restored voting rights to over 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions. Amendment 4 represented the single largest expansion of voting rights in the United States in half a century and brought an end to 150 years of a Jim Crow-era law in Florida.
The Magic have also worked closely with Let Your Voice Be Heard, Inc, which is composed of community advocates and residents who have chosen to aid the fight for change and reform in impoverished neighborhoods by providing tools and resources that are so desperately needed in under-served and under-represented neighborhoods.
The NBA as a whole has also shown tremendous commitment to these causes. The league has created the NBA Foundation that will contribute $300 million in initial funding focused on economic empowerment in the Black community. Over the next 10 years, the 30 NBA team owners will collectively contribute $30 million annually establishing this new, leaguewide charitable foundation. Through its mission to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement, the NBA Foundation will seek to increase access and support for high school, college-aged and career-ready Black men and women, and assist national and local organizations that provide skills training, mentorship, coaching and pipeline development in NBA markets and communities across the United States and Canada.
“It feels amazing (and) it’s probably the most important thing that can happen,” said Carter-Williams of having the backing of the Magic organization and the NBA. “Black people can fight for injustice all they want, but if they’re not getting help from white people and everybody else, things will never change. To have Orlando’s organization with the rest of the league is huge. It just shows that a lot of people care about social injustice and a lot of people care about change in this world. For them to have our backs is a really big thing.”
The Magic will continue to celebrate Black History Month with multiple activities, including Coach Clifford's Social Justice Game Changers honored at each home game throughout February, special in-game features on local Black-owned businesses, online auction featuring Magic players' MLK warm up shirts from earlier this season, support of community events including the City of Orlando's Black History Month Workshop and support of Valencia College’s Black History Month activities.
“The Orlando Magic remains deeply committed to diversity, equality, equity and inclusion,” Martins explained. “To work collectively to promote peaceful and necessary social change. We do that by joining our players, our coaches, our staff, along with our other teams in the NBA in these ongoing efforts.”
The month will culminate with an in-game celebration when the Magic host the Utah Jazz on Feb. 27. During the game, the Magic will recognize and honor the many accomplishments and contributions of African Americans in the Central Florida community. Orlando will host local African American community leaders with the night featuring various organizations, including the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, Black Business Initiative 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.
“We have to work together,” said Ma’at during the virtual town hall. “No one person, no one leader, no one organization is going to be able to bring about the change that’s (needed). We have to work together. We have to find ways to work together.”
In addition, throughout the month at every home game, the team will be wearing special shooting shirts designed by the NBA that read, "Built by Black History.” The script on the shirt also features significant milestones in the NBA related to Black History.
As part of the Black History Month celebration in February and beyond, the Magic join the NBA and its teams to support the ongoing pursuit of racial justice by taking leaguewide action that centers on voices, experiences and perspectives of Black players, coaches, employees and fans. As all teams leaguewide honor the legacy and contributions of Black leaders from history, each joins together to take collective actions now to demonstrate a shared commitment to building a more just, equal and inclusive future.
“We have a loud voice that reaches a lot of people,” Carter Williams said. “During this time, I think it’s really important that we use that voice and that we continue to use that voice. Just from being in the bubble, everything that we did in the bubble was huge. I think the most important part is that it’s a common conversation now between us.”
Now, more than ever, the Magic are encouraging everyone to get up and “Walk With Us.”