Dave Moore, Staff Writer
The public outcry over a police officer’s killing of George Floyd – and the many other deaths of Black people at the hands of police that preceded it – spurred the Dallas Mavericks to confront some uncomfortable topics in a community conversation on Tuesday, June 9, at the American Airlines Center’s Victory Plaza.
Wearing protective facemasks, more than 100 people – many of them law enforcement officers, Mavs fans, employees of the Mavs, and employees of the American Airlines Center – gathered to hear team Owner Mark Cuban, Dallas Regional Chamber Board Chair John Olajide, and other community leaders speak about white privilege, systemic racial inequity, and ways to address those issues.
The event, Dallas Mavericks Courageous Conversations, included break-out discussions on the topic of white privilege, and panel discussions with members of the Mavs organization, and community leaders, including Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, and Olajide.
“When we talk about systemic racism and talk about challenges and hope, and the past, we talk about an African American community who couldn’t vote to change the states and cities they lived in, until 1965,” Cuban said in reference to the passage of the Voting Rights Act signed into law that year.
“I need everyone to open up and talk to each other,” said Cuban, addressing the crowd. “Even when it’s difficult – particularly for white people. The reality is, when people talk about white privilege, we get defensive.”
Olajide addressed the crowd from his unique perspective – the founder of the fastest-growing home health care technology company.
“I was born and raised in Nigeria, and came here to go to college,” Olajide told the crowd. “I didn’t know I was Black until I got to America. I grew up in a community where everybody looked like me, and I went about my business.
When I came here, I was told in some subtle and in some not-so-subtle ways, that I had to accept I was second class,” Olajide said. “In my entire life, I had never had to process things like that. And I refused to be second class. I refused to be second-class for anyone.”
Olajide said even though he’s the head of a successful company, he’s still confronted by the issue.
“I’m in more privileged circles, but I still experience it,” he said. “I’ll be in a room with my colleagues, and I’m expected to get the water.”
Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall also spoke to the crowd.
“Law enforcement was (originally) created for slave control,” she said. “The culture still exists today. We have to fix it and move forward.”
During the NBA player roundtable, many spoke of the powerful impact the video footage of the murder of Floyd had on them.
“There were a lot of emotions going on,” said Rashard Quovon Lewis, a former NBA player. “Anger. Sadness. Defeat. When I saw the officer’s eyes, I thought, ‘They don’t care about us.’ But it was so familiar, and that’s what’s scary. When I saw George Floyd, I saw myself.”
The image also stuck with Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall, who served as event emcee. Marshall is the first Black female CEO in the history of the NBA.
“It took me five or six times before I could watch that video,” said Marshall, also a DRC board member. “What struck me was (the officer’s) hand in his pocket. Being cavalier. All I could see was my husband. My nephews. My two sons. We have a problem in America, that I’m optimistic we’re addressing. When I look at who’s protesting – the diversity of the people out there, and the diversity of the people in front of me right now – we’re saying, ‘We’re not going to take this anymore. We are going to have a new America.’ That’s what we’re about today.”