By Khalil Ismail
This letter is written on behalf of “Keys Empowers”, a grass roots organization in Baltimore, MD whom I’ve have had the privilege of working with and observing as they transform so called “at risk” youth to responsible ambitious change makers. On their office wall you will find a picture of Kaep whom they see as inspiration & validation for their years of blood, sweat and work in the trenches.
Millions of young black children will wake up tomorrow with one goal. Sports Practice. Alarms will ring and they will jump up looking for their clothes, their cleats, their shorts, and other sports accessories. They will think about how much they hate the grueling sprints and push-ups. But they will prepare, and they will endure. Because for so long and for so many of them, this is their vision of the future: If you’re good on the field, it’s your only way out, your only chance at having a better life.
When “fight or” flight is normalized and when poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity is the daily routine, then “gold” becomes God for so many.
To these struggling populations, entertainers and athletes represent the ability to eat and breathe. They represent the opportunity to buy your mom a home so she never has to work again. Because seeing her stressed to death as she works two jobs and fulfills the role of both mother and father incites unbearable guilt.
So they run and grind and jump and catch and throw and tackle with ferocity in hopes that they will reach a place of peace.
Sometimes survival means you don’t have time to get to the root of the problem.
Why do I and so many of my friends have to struggle so much? Why is my pops incarcerated for a trivial offense? Why aren’t my doctor visits covered if my father lives with us? Why do I have to be paranoid when I walk down the street because cops have nothing better to do than bother me? What caused this? Is it all my fault?
When systematic injustice is multigenerational, you tend to accept the hand that was dealt to you. And if you get out, you fight hard as hell not to go back to the trauma.
Colin Kaepernick was raised in a different reality. As an adopted son of two white parents, Colin had every opportunity to ignore the struggle of his African American brethren. Often those who grow up alongside the privileged adopt the mentality of privileged.
I would love to sit down and ask what the process was for his sensitivity to the systematic issues that create the conditions for black pain. Until then, l want to thank him for reintroducing the legacy of athletes who used sports as a medium for a deeper message to humanity. A legacy started by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Bill Russel, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and rekindled by the likes Craig Hodges, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf and Etan Thomas.
By using his position to acknowledge the plight of the downtrodden and putting his career on the line, Colin reminds us that getting out and going pro isn’t the goal, it’s a means.
For many young aspiring athletes, Colin is redefining the goalpost. There is something in the heart of human beings that respects a man who isn’t satisfied until everyone is taken care of despite his own comfort. After all the weights, the hill running, intense training, the draft, the coming off the bench and becoming a starter and making the Super Bowl, Colin’s defining moment was simply saying, I care for those who haven’t received the same opportunity as me.
Many of us are taught to measure our success by the size of the public platforms we reach. But what is true freedom in this world except altruistic sincerity despite the stakes?
To this day, some don’t understand Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem and protest injustice to blacks. Their world revolves around a standard that says pleasing the power structure IS success. Any disturbance to that is a threat.
Though his quarterback rating was better than more than half of QB’s in 2016, no NFL team to this date has signed him despite solid play on the field and his pristine record off it.
It is clear that his risk has cost him money, but it has not stopped his resolve. He has pledged to donate one million dollars to organizations that help the underserved, and he has remained vocal about the injustices he observes. More and more NFL players have since decided to replicate Colin’s actions and even many high school students around the country have joined the protest. His example shows us that our value is so much deeper and greater than the green printed paper they hand to us after we perform.
In my own efforts to serve, I work with the organization KEY’s Empowers, who has dedicated so much time and effort to empowering the underserved for so long without much recognition. These are the people who spend most of their time strategizing on how to uplift the mentality and spirit of those who have been told they don’t matter and shown that few care.
Thus, it is a gigantic breath of fresh air to see someone who doesn’t have to care putting everything on the on the line for us. Now when we teach our children consciousness and higher purpose, they can relate it with someone they see with fame.
And they can frame fame properly, as a means, not an end.
For these reasons and many more, we back Colin and thank him for making our job a little bit easier.
Learn more about Keys Empowers at keysempowers.org.
Khalil Ismail hails from Baltimore and is a life-long humanitarian and an award winning independent music artist and producer & filmmaker. His single, “knocking” charted 3rd on independent hip-hop radio charts. He has also appeared on discovery channel as the voice of one of it’s flagship shows. Ismail has performed in West and South Africa, UK, Amsterdam, Australia, Germany and around the U.S. He has also completed 2 short films.
He also hosts events and programs that combine entertainment with educational workshops, social upliftment forums, and spiritual consciousness, with a focus on topics that impact humanity on personal and community levels. His mission to empower others through art, humanitarian work, and engaging discussions
Find him at Khalilismail.com