ORLANDO - Lifting the spirits of others is something the Orlando Magic take pride in doing. The organization’s work in the community has helped countless people make strides in their lives.
Their off-the-court efforts have never been a solo undertaking, however. Many other organizations and individuals over the years have joined forces with the philanthropic Magic to elevate Central Florida.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), led by its inspirational leader Desmond Meade, is one of those groups. The alliance between the Magic and FRRC was on full display on Thursday, as they along with a few other local community spearheads toured around Orlando to help motivate, galvanize and empower others.
The day, known as “Desmond Meade Day,” was also an opportunity for the Magic, team Head Coach Steve Clifford, and others to honor Meade for all that he has done to embolden the community.
Thursday’s journey included stops at the Salvation Army of Orlando and the New Image Youth Center (NIYC), which helps kids achieve their goals through various programs centered around academic support, social development, health and wellness, and crisis prevention.
“This day means a great deal to me, mainly because I think that my story, how it shows that a person that was homeless and addicted to drugs can actually influence the world,” Meade said. “It shows that anybody can be great, anybody can be influential if they commit to giving back to their community and leading with love. That’s what this day is all about…is how we love our neighbor, how do we understand that when we look at the word love, we think about that love being wanting for your neighbor which you will want for yourself.”
A big emphasis throughout the day was on voting, and how important it is for everyone to participate in our country’s democracy. That’s been one of the major themes over the last several weeks, as the NBA in particular is doing all that it can to increase voter turnout.
Last week, the Magic and the City of Orlando announced that Amway Center will be an early voting site for the 2020 general election. Starting Oct. 19 and running through Nov. 1 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day), Orange County residents will be able to cast their ballot at the Magic’s arena, one of 20 early voting locations within the county.
The NBA recently announced that its teams, players and coaches agreed to immediately establish a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches and team governors, that will be focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.
The 53-year-old Meade, whom Time magazine named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019, has an incredibly inspiring story, which has uplifted many people who have faced similar challenges. Formerly homeless and imprisoned following a drug charge conviction, Meade overcame his obstacles and 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. Last month, Meade voted in Florida’s primary election. It was the first time he voted in 30 years.
One person inspired by Meade’s rise is Clifford himself, as the two have talked plenty recently about ways he, along with the Magic’s players, can boost the community even more.
“For all of us, me included, the first time we sat down with Desmond (we talked about) education, educating ourselves about the issues that we have in our country because if we don’t know what the true issues are, it’s hard to have a good plan about a way that we can help going forward,” said Clifford, who led the Magic to a second straight playoff appearance this season. “He’s such a powerful speaker and he’s so prepared, he’s able to speak in a way that you learn and he gives you inspiration. One of his great lines that he used with our team, which they still talk about, is he told them ‘with the importance of voting and Florida being a key state is you guys can be the guardians of the galaxy by getting the word out, getting other people to vote,’ and that resonated with them.”
As moved as Clifford has been by Meade, Meade is just as impressed by Clifford and the leadership he shows, both with his team and in the community.
“Coach Steve Clifford is in my book the MVP, period,” Meade said. “The level of commitment that he has in this community just speaks volumes.”
Clifford, who is in the middle of his second stint with the Magic after serving as an assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy from 2007-12, made a large financial donation to the NIYC on Thursday. Last week, the NIYC received a special gift from the Jr. NBA. It was a mural, named “Basketball Sunrise,” that 13 and 14-year-old Jr. NBA Championship athletes created to illustrate the importance of global unity and social change through the lens of basketball.
“We are just excited,” NIYC Founder and Executive Director Dr. Shanta Barton-Stubbs said shortly after the painting was unveiled. “Number one because we’ve been talking about social justice with our kids, but you don’t know how well you connect all the time with them. Having a piece in here that will actually start provoking conversations about it, they are starting to see that their lives matter to more than just the people here at New Image Youth Center. They know we are a family. They know we love them. But to know that people outside of these doors are supporting them – the Orlando Magic, basketball players whom they believe in, the team who they believe in is supporting that Black Lives Matter as well – is just as important. This piece will remind us about that.”
One of the next big days on the calendar for the FRRC and the Magic is Oct. 24, which will be a statewide “Day of Action” aimed at galvanizing new voters to vote early on that day.