Assistant coaches throughout the league organized Connecting for Change, which looks to educate teams on topics like Black history and voter registration and encourage student-athletes to use their voices to combat racism. Each program will bring in four speakers to cover topics like law enforcement and voting registration, and teams will work to find internship opportunities for their respective student-athletes.
“We want our student-athletes to come here and excel on the basketball court, absolutely, but, we definitely empower them to find their voice, excel in the classroom, connect with mentors and alumni and try to expand themselves and really hone their voice to find their identity,” assistant men’s basketball coach Graham Bousley said.
Bousley said assistant coaches in the A-10 were inspired by their colleagues in the Big East who created a similar program. A group of assistant and head coaches and athletic directors organized the program based on three pillars – educate, empower and evolve.
He said the program is currently led by coaches, but they’re trying to figure out ways to add student-athletes to leadership positions. The organization is composed of just A-10 men’s basketball programs, but it may expand to other sports or conferences in the future, he said.
Head coach Jamion Christian said prior to the program’s formation, the team has already heard from several guest speakers like NBA players and litigators from New York and D.C. about social justice issues.
He added that he’s been working to connect athletes with professionals to help players prepare for jobs post-graduation through the Leroy Charles Mentorship Program, which he instituted in his first season with the program.
“We want to get our players internships in the field that they’re excited about and help them grow their knowledge in those ways,” Christian said. “We’re really passionate, and we’re going to continue to be consistent in that effort because we’ve been able to provide those opportunities for them.”
Players will also wear customized warm-up shirts for all A-10 matchups as part of the initiative. Individuals from Black history will be honored prior to each conference game by a member from each school, who will read and discuss their importance. The discussion will be televised and recorded.
Christian said honoring individuals from Black history will help continue conversations around racial inequality and social justice by ensuring “the world knows we’re not forgetting these people.”
“We’re committed as a league and committed as a team and a program to continue to educate our world about the injustices that are happening all around us, that are affecting us and our communities,” he said.
Women’s basketball players have also taken a stand against social injustice, joining Athletes Driving Change, an organization promoting equality through education and service. Connecting for Change will also work with the A-10’s Commission on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Christian said current student-athletes are the world’s future leaders, and initiatives like Connecting for Change can help them gain the strength to speak up about issues plaguing their community and country.
“We want to empower student-athletes,” Christian said. “We want to hear their voices. We want to hear how they’re feeling, what they’re saying, and then we want to go out and create change in our world.”