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NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon is woke

He attended University of Virginia, he grew up around Morehouse College and that’s only part of his story

Why would an athlete who has won NBA Rookie of the Year, ACC Player of the Year and dunked on LeBron James not want to be defined by his accomplishments?

The answer’s quite simple: Malcolm Brogdon is not a stereotypical athlete.

He wants to be remembered as someone whose impact transcended the realm of athletics.

“My mom has taught me and my brothers to be more than that — to not identify yourself as your profession,” Brogdon, 24, said to an audience of Morehouse students and faculty recently. “It’s more so what type of person you are, what type of character you have and how you treat your fellow man.”

Not since the 1960s have professional athletes been so adamant about exploring ways in which they can shed light on the various injustices that have plagued black and brown communities across the country.

Some have taken a knee. Others have donated money. Brogdon, while not actively seeking attention, will use his newfound fame to advocate for change not just within the U.S., but worldwide.

In a recent visit to campus, Brogdon, along with his eldest brother Gino, 30, spoke to the Morehouse College community as part of the institution’s Crown Forum speaker series about topics ranging from their upbringing to social justice. They also stressed the importance of community engagement and fighting the negative stereotypes often associated with black men.

“I’m a big advocate of mentoring because I have seen what that can do — that is how I define service,” Gino Brogdon, a 2008 graduate of Morehouse, said. “For Malcolm, it’s totally different; what he wants and what he stands for is different than me. We have respect for each other and we support each other, but it’s really your authentic idea of how you want to serve the world, because being a black man is hard enough and the least you can do is make it easier for the next generation.”

Because of the stereotypes associated with black men in higher education, it was often thought that Malcolm Brogdon’s on-the-court achievements or Gino Brogdon’s “athletic build” (yes, people did approach him like Jeremy from Get Out) disqualified them from speaking on social issues. This could not be further from the truth. Despite their different career paths, the two brothers make an effort to give back and take a stand against injustice.

For Malcolm Brogdon, it involved using his platform to denounce the protests of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, as an act of “hate and blatant racism.” It also involved spending an extra year at UVA to earn a master’s degree in public policy which will help him accomplish his main goal after his playing days are over: ending poverty across the globe.

For Gino Brogdon, a trial attorney in the Atlanta area, it involved serving on the Atlanta Citizen Review Board to ensure that police were held accountable for misconduct as well as volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Their high degree of social consciousness was no coincidence. Their grandfather, Bishop John Hurst Adams, was a civil rights leader in the 1960s. He also served as the pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Seattle, the city’s oldest black church.

“I idolize Muhammad Ali for his courage but I also idolize my grandfather because he had the same courage in the civil rights [movement] to stand next to Dr. King, not knowing what the repercussions would exactly be, but knowing they would be significant,” Malcolm said. “He was putting his life on the line every day, but he continued to fight for it, so he’s been an amazing influence on my life.”

Years before Gino Brogdon’s youngest brother was throwing down nasty, one-handed dunks over future Hall of Famers, their parents taught them about the harsh realities that can come with growing up black in America. In Jann Adams’ household, the mother of the Brogdon brothers, racism was a recurring topic.

“It was important for them to understand that racism exists and that, while I think there has been significant progress since the ’60s when my dad was doing so much of that work, racism is real,” said Adams, who has worked in Morehouse’s psychology department since 1990. “I think black men experience a very special combination of contempt and fear, such that I really believe those are the two key things that are tied to the police violence.”

Adams then took it a step further. Wanting her sons to be comfortable around all types of people, she downsized from their middle-class neighborhood in southwest Atlanta to a low-income area near Martin Luther King’s birth home. While the signs of the neighborhood’s impending gentrification were there, today, the area looks almost unrecognizable — a far cry from its unpleasant past.

“There was a large homeless, addicted, mentally ill population in that area and we moved in there,” Adams said. “It was wonderful, our neighbors were friends, the people in the community were good to each other [and] everybody in that neighborhood was kind to my boys the whole time they grew up.”

This nontraditional move is extremely rare for a single mother with three children, however, it seemed to have worked out.

These experiences, according to Adams, were formative for her boys. There they were taught the value of not making assumptions and proper decision-making. The most critical lesson came on the court.

“We built a little basketball [court] on the back end of Howell,” Adams said, “it’s a little side street and basically every homeless person in that neighborhood played basketball on that court.”

Their homeless opponents opened up about their college experience and the mistakes they made that led to their current situation. These tales were a constant reminder that nothing in the world was promised, especially to people who looked like them.

Armed with that mindset, the brothers have forged their own paths. They challenge one another to not forget where they came from and stand up for those who do not have a voice. It also helps that they have each other to hold accountable — nothing’s worse than being scolded by a sibling or, even worse, their mother.

Why?

Because they know that regardless of their accomplishments, they could be one bad decision away from losing it all.

C. Isaiah Smalls, II is a junior at Morehouse College from Lansing, Mich. He studies Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies. He is Editor-in-Chief of The Maroon Tiger.