This country is currently rife with crisis and conflict. If you are young, have black or brown skin and are without financial means, the less likely your concerns will be heard. On a Sunday in San Antonio, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Harvard professor and civil-rights activist Dr. Cornel West tried to chip away at that suffocating status quo.
The basketball coach and the author/educator are both renowned in their fields, and yet they’re not necessarily two people we put in the same sentence. But on November 20, Coach Pop and Dr. West sat on a stage at the Carver Community Center and for over two hours they took questions from 250 students who attend Sam Houston High School on San Antonio’s East Side. Also in the audience were the Spurs, the coaching staff, everyone who works on both the basketball and business operation for the team, as well as invitees from the broader community. Somehow, I was the moderator of this event, and it was as unforgettable as it sounds.
For over two hours, the students asked tough questions about the state of the world and their own place within a country that just elected a president who, in their view, seems to hold them in open contempt. Pop and Dr. West answered in kind, without condescension and with straight talk about the importance of education, the state of the world and how these young people could navigate our troubled times.
Pop told the crowd that he wanted to host this kind of meeting because, “I wanted to show you, the students at Sam Houston, that there are people in your community who care and we understand that there are things that have to be fixed and we are willing to listen and participate with you in making that happen.”
The student questions were focused on their own ability to move forward with a sense of optimism and hope given the current state of this country. Coach Pop said, “I think the most important thing is that you can’t do anything by yourself. You have to join together, and be prepared, ready and active.”
Dr. West answered about the importance of students seeing themselves as part of a collective community and not isolated individuals. He said, “Do you respect yourself? Do you have confidence in yourself? Do you believe in yourself? If so, that will enable you to learn how to respect others. And in respecting others, you’ll be able to deal with what is coming at you. But at the larger, institutional level, you’re going to have to learn how to organize, mobilize, and create networks and even movements. You all seen the folks marching on television? Did young people march here in San Antonio? Then you know what I’m talking about.”
Both Pop and Dr. West also spoke with emotion about how important it was for students to know that this wasn’t just a fly-by event but that they would be there to help the Sam Houston community going forward.