Sports / 

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Jazz fulfilling a promise to be 'actively anti-racist,' combating taught racism with new program

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Feb. 10, 2021 at 11:36 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — The statement was merely in writing, but you could still feel the disgust that filled Donovan Mitchell.

"I don't know where to start.... racism is taught... and the fact that kids are being told by their own parents to not learn about black history and black excellence is sickening and sad!! And this is just part of the problem..... Smh," Mitchell tweeted earlier this week.

That tweet was in response to the viral story of a North Ogden charter elementary school that allowed parents to opt their children out of participating in Black History Month events. The decision, which has since been reversed following backlash, was made after a few parents asked for their kids to not participate.

That, more than anything, is what saddened Mitchell the most. Parents didn't want their kids to learn or be educated about the Black community's impact on the state, the country and the world. It was just part of the problem, but the Jazz are trying to be part of the solution.

On Wednesday, the Jazz announced a new program, "Black History Heroes," for all K-12 students in Utah.

The program will be a streaming series that features Jazz players, head coach Quin Snyder and new team owners Ryan and Ashley Smith discussing — and teaching — about Black history. They'll talk about the people and the events that have helped inspire them, with the hope the message will have the same impact on thousands of Utah students.

Individual sessions will be held with team members for all Utah elementary schools on Feb. 18, junior high schools on Feb. 23, and high schools on Feb. 25. The Black History Heroes discussions will go live at 10 a.m. MT on their respective days and will be available on demand for use as part of school curriculums.

In his first media availability as the official owner of the Jazz, Ryan Smith made a promise to his team and to the community about how the Jazz will go about dealing with matters of social justice.

"It's not that we're going to be anti-racist; we're going to be actively anti-racist as an organization," Smith said. "And that means we're going to take our time and our energy, and we're going to use this platform to help make our communities more equitable from education to health care."

He has since committed to paying for a four-year scholarship for an underrepresented or minority student for every Jazz victory (something Mitchell said was "one of the coolest things in the world"). Now, the organization is starting a program to directly teach school kids about the Black community.

In short, it wasn't an empty or feel-good speech by Smith; he's backed it up. The new program isn't just providing curriculum or statements, it will feature Jazz players themselves (maybe even in live sessions — the details are still being sorted through) talking about the Black history moments that resonated with them. For many of the school children, it will be their current heroes talking about heroes of the past.

It was important, too, that the program doesn't just involve the Black players on the team for this reason: They wanted to help the young students see that Black history is simply everyone's history.

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