Gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos stood on the 1968 Summer Olympic podium, fists raised high in the air for Black Power. NFL players Colin Kaepernick took a knee, Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett took a seat. NBA superstars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Derrick Rose warmed up in T-shirts emblazoned with the words, “I CAN’T BREATHE,” the last words of NYPD choking victim Eric Garner’s life.
In a country trying to crawl toward equality, it seems the United States is constantly being stampeded by regression. Charlottesville has become the spearhead for progressivism in a region working to heal from the racism defended by a failed confederacy. On Aug. 11, the miserable, parasitic, pathetic hatred of Neo-Nazis congregated in Charlottesville.
The tragedy of Heather Heyer’s death as well as the injuries of 19 other counter protesters from a car driven by a suspected neo-Nazi fueled impromptu Solidarity Rally: Anti-Racist, People of Color, Allies Monday at the Salt Lake City and County Building.
Several politicians and community activists stood before a crowd of 2,000 to unite the people and vent the frustrations and immense sadness overwhelming so many who thought—after a black president—this kind of hate was something relegated to history books.
One speaker, however, was surprising to say the least. A 6 foot, 8 inch 22-year-old Milwaukee Buck. I recognized the NBA player towering over the speakers and nudged a friend, “Holy shit, it’s Jabari Parker!”
What happened next was shocking. Parker approached the podium, and spoke. He didn’t read a statement, he didn’t speak with political neutrality. Parker spoke with anger, fear, sadness and hope—all sparked by a passion to heal.
If you wonder what’s so shocking about an American speaking their mind, Parker is an athlete and athletes receive intense public attention, and with it, ridicule and condemnation. The owners of pro teams and a majority of fans are annoyed when their well-paid performers suddenly take a moral stand.
Kaepernick, Lynch and Bennett have all received withering criticism for exercising their first amendment right, silently and peacefully by kneeling or sitting during The Star-Spangled Banner. NFL owners reportedly have black listed Kaepernick on the free-agency list.
Parker, a half-Tongan, half-African American Mormon from Chicago, attended Simeon Career Academy. It’s the high school Derrick Rose attended, as well as the 1984 class of Benji Wilson, who was shot and killed on the eve of his senior season opener. Chicago’s daily violence and turmoil inspired Parker to address the nation a year ago.
This time Parker used a microphone:
“I just want to give you guys a brief background on me. My mom, she’s from Tonga. My dad is black. My best friend is Jewish. My uncle is gay. I could go on and on. I came from welfare, government cheese.
I would be doing a disservice for my people if I didn’t come here today. So I’m here to speak for diversity. I’m diverse. It’s in my DNA. I love my culture. I love you.”
A potential all-star and young role model with a fearless voice for a nation still crippled by racism, Parker has established himself as a rarity not listed on the back of any Topps card: a social activist.
Parker’s last message of a brief but important speech; hope, unity, and peace:
“I want to set the record straight: We all came here to build, not to destroy. We came out here because we don’t hate [racists], we just don’t like them. But they hate us. Good luck. Peace out.”
—Sam Mullen Warchol