Carmelo Anthony’s town hall brings athletes, teens and police face to face
The NBA All-Star continues to try to bridge the gap in broken communities
Carmelo Anthony was pleasantly surprised to see his USA Basketball Olympic teammates and the women’s team joining him in South Central Los Angeles on Monday. There were also 80 teenagers predominantly of African-American and Latino descent and community leaders on hand at the closed social discussion at Challengers Boys & Girls Club.
But of all the participants whom the NBA All-Star-turned-social activist thanked at the end, he gave the biggest kudos to the Los Angeles Police Department officers who truly enthusiastically participated by listening to the pain and concern of the attending youth.
“I was thanking everybody who came out and participated, especially the officers,” Anthony told The Undefeated. “I know in situations like this they can feel awkward being in front of these people and hearing all of the negativity that comes by. It’s easier to hear it when you turn on TV about how bad the police are. It’s very difficult to hear it coming from the actual youth sitting there in small groups to take that information and decipher that.”
Anthony hosted Leadership Together: A Conversation With Our Sons & Daughters in response to recent tragedies across the country. The major topic of discussion was young African-American men fearing for their lives from police while police have also been targeted, leading to deaths on both sides.
Anthony’s recent social and racial activism was sparked by his Instagram post on April 7 in which he called on “all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge. Go to your local officers, leaders, congressmen assemblymen/assemblywomen and demand change.” Next, the four-time Olympian joined fellow NBA All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul on stage at the start of The ESPYS on July 14 to promote social change. During the start of USA Basketball’s Olympic training camp last week, Anthony told The Undefeated that “the system is broken. It takes a lot to fix it.”
Anthony appears to be doing his part in trying to fix it as he spearheaded Monday’s discussion at the youth club that once had such members as former baseball stars Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis and current NBA All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook. With the aid of Melo Enterprises, Inc., vice president Asani Swann and National Basketball Players Association executive director Sherrie Deans, the club was pinpointed as the best place in Los Angeles for Anthony to speak to young kids, community leaders and police officers. He donated a check as well to the club.
“I’m not going to tell you how much,” Anthony said with a smile.
The USA Basketball team canceled practice so the players could all attend. USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo, men’s coach Mike Krzyzweski and women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma waited patiently in a room while the event went on. Chris Paul, who also serves as the NBPA president, considered taking a helicopter to attend, but couldn’t get out of a previous family commitment in Los Angeles, a source said. The NBA, USA Basketball and the NBPA collaborated to offer strong support as well. Five police officers manned the grounds at the gated venue.
“I didn’t expect the commitment from the other athletes,” Anthony said. “I thought USA Basketball and the NBA could be on board. I was doing it myself at first. I was just going to come in and have a conversation. It wasn’t going to be this big gathering or NBA town hall. It was just going to be a conversation with a couple officers, a couple of youth.”
It was certainly much more for Anthony and the attendees.
Sixty teenagers from the Challengers Boys & Girls Clubs and another 20 from the Brotherhood Crusade, an educationally focused mentoring, character development, anti-obesity and violence reduction initiative attended the meeting. They were told they were going to a town hall meeting that would include police, but were not given further details. Some of the kids were uncomfortable with uniformed police being there.
While en route to his event, Anthony read about Hall of Famer Michael Jordan donating $1 million each to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s new Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In an exclusive letter written for The Undefeated, Jordan said that he was “troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers.” Anthony, who endorses Jordan’s Jumpman shoe and clothing line, was proud to hear the words from the adored fellow African-American icon who is known for staying quiet on social and racial issues.
“I just read the statement before I came here. That’s big. That’s MJ. That’s Michael Jordan,” Anthony said. “As African-Americans, that’s who we look up to. He has a great voice with a great platform. I’m just glad that he came out now and he used it at this time with everything going on.”
The kids were asked to put away their cellphones and were not allowed to take any pictures or video. There were a lot of empty seats for the soon-to-be attending participants among the curious kids as they waited for the event to start. Suddenly, in walked Anthony, Golden State Warriors newcomer Kevin Durant, Indiana Fever player Tamika Catchings and Chicago Sky player Elena Delle Donne, who sat next to the stunned children.
USA Basketball and Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan asked a kid if the seat was open next to him. The kid quickly nodded yes. Another kid yelled out, “Whoa, that’s KD!” Another asked, “Where’s Kyrie Irving?”
“We had a wide range of people today,” Catchings said at a news conference. “We probably started at 13 [years old] all the way to adults, so it was a great group to be amongst.”
The ESPYS video speech given by Anthony, James, Wade and Paul was shown to start. Anthony followed with a speech before being followed by words from other local dignitaries before the real talking began. The 200 people in the gymnasium, including white police officers, were separated into groups of eight. As the kids talked, there was a lot of emotion and even tears as they told their stories and concerns to the police. The boys were worried for their lives while the girls were worried about the lives of their fathers, brothers and uncles.
“One kid in my group was talking about how he just got racially profiled a couple weeks ago,” said Anthony, 32, who was raised by a single mother in a tough Baltimore neighborhood. “He just got stopped from the police. So for me to hear that and see that and for the police to hear and see that, that was touching.
“And then there was another story where two young girls were catching the bus and they got off the bus and there were two guys out there that chased them into the store. They had to stay in the bathroom, locked the bathroom and called the police. The police told them they were lying. Those types of conversations were happening.”
Everyone involved reconvened in the gymnasium at the end of the nearly two-hour emotional session. Each group next had a spokesperson speak about their experience. Durant encouraged some kids to step forward to talk while USA center DeMarcus Cousins put an arm around a nervous kid who spoke. Anthony excitedly gave some final words before the kids departed to a box lunch, to have more discussion among themselves and an amazing story to tell.
The problems of South Central Los Angeles, the police versus African-American men and more weren’t solved on this day. But, Anthony plans on doing more meetings like this and believes discussion will help change all lives for the better.
As Anthony departed wearing USA Basketball gear, he smiled brightly and said, “Yes, I’m proud. I’m proud.”