The National Alliance of African American Athletes
By Clayton Mehlbauer, 7 December 2016
Trinity High School in Louisville, KY.
Sports are one of the biggest unifiers in the country. No matter your age, race, political affiliation, career, religion, or culture, sports unite people. But sometimes sports become too big of a priority. Young kids who are attracted to sports should enjoy them, but they should also focus on academics. The National Alliance of African American Athletes (NAAAA) tries to show kids how sports and academics can lead them to success and power.
Eight individuals in Pennsylvania who were all involved in community activities founded the NAAAA in 1989. Those individuals helped kids empower themselves and show them the importance of academics along with sports (Pearsall). The main goal of the NAAAA is to be the leading organization that helps youth achieve academic excellence and reach their highest potential. The Alliance uplifts and mentors youth, focusing on African American males (“Home”).
Mr. Everette Pearsall and Mr. Reginald Grant are two of the individuals who started the NAAAA. The premise of athletics and the sports industry along with public programs helps empower youth. The best part about working for the NAAAA, according to Pearsall, is the results. Watching young kids respond to their message and their organization is a special thing (Pearsall). According to Grant, when a kid comes back after being exposed to opportunity and gives back that is special. To be able to have a conversation with kids who are thankful is why Grant does it. The NAAAA tries to help kids while they are in high school going through a tough time, and long after they are successful (Grant).
There are many academic programs, sports camps, and foundations that help kids reach their potential that the NAAAA is a part of. The programs prepare them for college giving high school athletes the ability to lead, while recognizing their academic, community, and athletic excellence. The SAT Scrimmage is a great example of one of their biggest academic programs. The goal of the SAT Scrimmage is to help students know how to take the SAT. The scrimmage helps students who are interested in attending college but cannot afford SAT-prep courses. It also helps student athletes who could play a college sport but do not have the SAT score for college. The Scrimmage includes a practice SAT exam to learn strategies for test taking and also a take home test booklet for extra practice. After the practice test students get their scores back so they can go over their strong suits and weaknesses (“Home”).
The NAAAA also has life skills programs, financial workshops, career planning, educational planning, and practical money skills for life programs. Along with academic programs there are also athletic programs and camps. There was a five hundred kid football camp in Los Angeles, California in the past year. That camp provided young kids in middle school and elementary school with a quality camp that taught them the fundamentals and strategy to football (Pearsall).
The NAAAA openly wants corporations, organizations, educators, administrators, current or retired athletes, parents or guardians of current, former and future athletes, as well as their supporters, to share in their quest to support the development of the total person through its programs (“Home”). Any person could help the NAAAA by hosting an SAT or ACT program, lecturing kids, buying books to donate to young men, simply making a cash donation, hosting an event like a football camp, making a request for a board member to come talk, volunteering at an NAAAA event, becoming a member, or making a nomination (Tate).
Along with the academic and athletic programs the NAAAA hosts, they also present the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Award each year. The award started in 1992 to acknowledge academic success and to help promote high academic standards for other young men. It is named after one of the founding fathers that died, and the other founders used this award to honor him (Grant). The Watkins Award does this by showing those young men the examples they can follow of the role models who are considered for the award (“Home”).
Since there are so many high school awards that are given out, many seem to have little significance. The Watkins Award is different, though. The Watkins Award is special because of what it stands for and how it uplifts the youth. It acknowledges hard work in the classroom, in the community, along with on the field success (Frank). Many have said that the Watkins Award is the equivalent to the Heisman Trophy for African American high school athletes around the country (Gray). “One of the things that we talk about as we go through our weekend is that it really is more than an award,” said Everette Pearsall. “It’s a brotherhood, it’s a movement. It really is something we put together by which we know these individuals can have an extreme positive effect on those who look up to athletes, but really for a different reason than being an athlete.”
The Watkins Award is so special because of its role models who are finalists. Of all of the players in the National Football League (NFL), there is a small circle of elite players who were special in high school who won the Watkins Award (Gray). Everette Pearsall says that the Watkins Award has become the most coveted award for African American seniors in high school in the nation. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is the most known winner of the Watkins Award of players playing in the NFL right now. He won in 2011 and also went on to win the Heisman Trophy at Florida State. Winston says the Watkins Award winners are the elite of the elite. One has to have success not just athletically, but also academically and persevere to come out of a community that Winston was from. The mission of the Watkins family is to strive to be the best, according to Winston (Gray).
The success of the Watkins Award alumni in athletics is very small compared to what they have achieved off the field. Myron Rolle shows what it really means to be a Watkins Award winner. Rolle earned the Rhodes scholarship and went on to study medicine at Oxford. Rolle chose to complete school instead of going into the draft as a football star. Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs currently has a 4.0 GPA and majors in aerospace engineering and was a Watkins alumnus. Success of the Watkins alumni in the classroom and professionally is not by accident (Gray). Along with Winston, Rolle, and Dobbs, there are several other role models that have been finalists for the award. Robert Tate of the Arizona Cardinals, Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets, Darnell Dinkins of the New Orleans Saints, Ted Ginn Jr. of the Miami Dolphins, Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and many others have all been finalists (“Home”).
Shane Battier, who was a finalist of the Watkins Award in 1996, wrote a letter about what is expected of a Watkins Award winner. In it he says:
Throughout my adolescence, I have not been the “average teenager”. My stature and character have always set me apart. Some call me an inspiration, a leader, and pillar in the community. Being a 6’8”, intelligent, articulate, black man, I know I defy many stereotypes that modern society places upon me. I know I am different. I do not run nor duck my uniqueness, but rather embrace it, and take advantage of it to become a leader in our society. I show society that one can be successful at all vantage points in life without compromising one’s integrity and morals. I show the world that even in a very technologically advanced society, old-fashioned hard work still pays off. My success transcends economic, racial and social boundaries to provide a standard for people of all races, religions, and creeds…I take my position of a leader very seriously. I believe that along with my success on the basketball court comes the responsibility of being a role model and teacher for not just today’s youth but society as a whole. A responsibility that does not end with the end of my basketball career, but one that I will continue to uphold throughout my life (Quoted in “Home”).
This is just one man of many finalists telling what the Watkins Award means to him and the community.
In 2016 there were five finalists for the Watkins Award. They are Brandon Burton from Los Angeles, CA, Messiah DeWeaver from Dayton, OH, Brandon Hill from Orangeburg, SC, Dwayne Haskins Jr. from Gaithersburg, MD, and Devin White from Cotton Valley, LA. Brandon Burton is a six time Honor Roll recipient, member of the Living in Faith Experience Team, volunteer for Midnight Mission on Skid Row, ESPN Top 150 player, Rivals 5 Star Challenge Champion, First Team California Mission League member, California State Champion, Mission League Offensive MVP, and Under Armour Football All American while maintaining a 3.7 GPA at Junipero Serra High School (Easley). Messiah DeWeaver is a part of the National Honor Society, volunteer for Pep Assembly, volunteer for Little League Football, volunteer for Community Clean Up, coach for Girls Powder Puff, two time state champion, All State Offensive Team, First Team Southwest, Ohio, All GWOC First Offensive Team, All Division First Offensive team, Elite 11, has 7500 passing yards & 90 touchdowns, led his team to 10-0 perfect season, and Semper Fidelis Football All American while maintaining a 4.0 GPA at Wayne High School. DeWeaver ended up winning the award in 2016. These are just two of the five finalists and the other three finalists have similar and significant accolades. This shows what it means to be a Watkins Finalist (Griffith).
It is a very arduous process to become a Watkins Award Finalist. First one must to be nominated by a parent, friend, coach, or teacher. Then that individual must apply, get the package sent by the NAAAA, complete the package, and then get accepted. In the package they write a personal statement, get a letter of recommendation, and submit transcripts (Grant). Finalists are based on unweighted grade point average, personal statements, extra-curricular activities, community service, and letters of recommendation (“Home”).
In today’s world there are many negative stories that make the news, and not enough success stories. When Raymond Wright III was in just second grade, he was not allowed to play sports because his parents would not allow it, due to not getting all A’s. To him, sports were the most valuable thing in the world, and that was all he wanted to do. Being kept from sports motivated him to work very hard and always make sure his report cards had nothing but all A’s. Wright believes that many things motivate you as a person and human, but the biggest motivator is fear. Fear is an emotion needed for survival and our most vivid memories are from fear and the excitement associated with it (Grant).
Wright believes fear may govern our lives too much. The reason Wright’s parents kept him from sports was so he would get all A’s and the fear of not playing sports motivated Wright to get all A’s. Since Wright was not old enough to understand the world his parents feared for him. There are many fears black parents of a black male have, but the biggest one is their son being put in jail or an unjustified death. Wright’s parents disciplined him out of fear because they did not want to lose him. Wright feels that as a black male in this world his life is not worth anything to those who are not like him. His parents raised him in a way to protect him, so at times he felt he was over-punished for certain situations (Grant).
Society to Wright is hard on him and all African American males. No matter if he is a successful businessman, star college athlete, or well-dressed young man, he feels he is in danger. One wrong move could lead to the end of his life. He and his parents are still afraid and have every right to be. He was pushed to academic excellence through fear, and even though it worked out great, he wishes the motivator was not fear. Being black in America is always a struggle and is often a tough fight. He and those like him can never let their guard down (Grant). Wright has had tremendous success, but for reasons he is not sure he wants. To understand Wright you have to be put in his shoes.
In The Other Wes Moore, the author Wes Moore is also successful and possibly for reasons like Wright. The author’s mother put Wes through military school because she just wanted Wes to be successful (Moore). To understand the situation you must understand poverty and the cycle young black males can fall into. When we think of poverty, immediately economic status and income or lack of income comes to mind. But, the subject is so much more complicated than that. For a person to be in poverty it is much more than money, it is social interaction, social relationship, and community. Poverty affects and defines the way one looks at things, the schools one attends, and the relationships one develops (Grant).
The NAAAA focuses on African American males because in the ages eighteen to twenty-six they are more likely to be involved in criminal activity. The National Urban League reported in 2000 that African American female PhDs increased by 111% while African American male PhDs increased by only 2%, showing that males need guidance. There have been huge efforts to promote collegiate academic success but by then it is a little too late, so the Watkins Award is promoting academic success while African American males are still in high school. The Watkins Award recognizes the importance of education and the goals of athletics and works to encourage young men to pursue this balance of success in both (“Home”).
To be able to break this poverty cycle, a young kid has to be successful in the classroom first and foremost. Then that specific kid can move on to athletics, and that is why Raymond Wright III is so successful, because of his academic success. Teachers in the classroom must adapt and adjust to expanded cultural diversity. Schools must adapt to our changing demographics and be more inclusive instead of exclusive. Schools must strive to include all groups in the curriculum and have high expectations for every student. Our teachers must be prepared to deal with and embrace cultural diversity in our schools and classrooms (Grant). These are just a few ways to help young kids have success in the classroom.
The reason the Watkins Award works is because it puts successful athletes, who are also successful students, at the forefront. When a young kid sees a high school star win the Watkins Award and that star tells kids to work hard at school, young kids will listen to that star. Then to watch that high school star progress through college and even on to a professional sport, that is pretty inspiring. The young high school student-athletes who are finalists embody what the American Dream means. It is all about hard work, perseverance, making the most of your opportunities, and giving back (Grant).
The NAAAA has big plans for the future. The organization wants to have a chapter in every major city and work even harder to become an institution that affects more lives than they affect now (Pearsall). According to Everette Pearsall, you can never do enough. Right now the NAAAA has Phoenix, Ohio, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Tampa, and Detroit chapters. It also has the Ben Tate foundation, Lorenzo Alexander “Aces” Foundation, and Justin Blalock Foundation (“Home”).
Personally, I had a great experience with the NAAAA. I spoke with three of the members and they were all very respectful and helpful in my research. One could see why the NAAAA is such a helpful and successful organization just by talking with these men. The NAAAA is a “people’s organization.” It does everything it can to uplift youth and help them reach their full potential. They are doing something special and will continue to grow in prevalence. The three members I spoke with all said that they were doing what they do, meaning they are a part of the NAAAA, because they wanted to give back, they love seeing kids grow, watching the results, seeing a kid become successful when at one point success was not an option, and watching kids realize what empowerment can do.
Organizations like the National Alliance of African American Athletes are why the world is changing. Young African American males are growing up today with direction, a support system, and positive expectations. These kids are breaking the poverty cycle, and with more work and more help, more kids will continue to be successful. What the Alliance is doing is special and more people should and will get on board. Not everything is about sports and kids are starting to realize that. What you do in the classroom and in the community matters just as much as what you do on the athletic field or court.
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Tate, Tyrone. Phone Interview. 14 Nov. 2016.