Dirk Nowitzki’s kids won’t be voting age until sometime in the 2030s.
But he’s like any other parent, other than being 7-feet tall and one of the best basketball players in history. He wants his children to be well-educated when they get to the point in their lives where they are making their own decisions.
To that end, the legendary Maverick took part Tuesday in the second installment of The HUDDLE panel discussion: Opportunities For Equity In Education.
It was a courageous conversation that included dignitaries from Dallas-area education-oriented groups, including DISD superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa.
Nowitzki was a vested participant and believes that there are initiatives in place that will lead to significant improvements in creating an equal learning environment in the education system. It’s just going to take time.
“Some things you won’t change overnight,” Nowitzki said. “I think there are a lot of great programs out there that do great work. We just need to keep going, keep building on that. The superintendent touched on some of the stuff they’re doing. There’s tons of great programs out there that try to bridge the gap between communities and schools and try to make the schools better.
“But like I said, this is not going to happen from one day to the next. It’s gradually got to get better. And I think we’re working on that and you just have to show some patience.”
The panel, moderated by Mavericks’ CEO Cynt Marshall, also included Mavericks’ vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley, Paul Quinn College president Dr. Michael Sorrell and Dominique McCain, managing director of The Commit Partnership – in addition to Nowitzki and Hinojosa.
The inaugural HUDDLE – Honesty, Unity, Diversity, Dialogue, Listening, Equality – was in September and discussed voting rights and the impact of the late John Lewis.
On Tuesday, the second group convened at American Airlines Center on the Mavericks’ practice court. Above them on the concourse, early voting was ongoing at Dallas County’s largest polling venue.
Underneath, the panel brought up various points about how to help the education system so that young people are prepared when they get to the point that they are helping shape the country.
It starts with money, of course. But also with parenting and so many other important aspects of a kid’s life.
Somehow, school systems like DISD must be given a level playing field with more financially endowed districts.
“It’s a combination of everything because people bring different skill sets to the table,” Hinojosa said. “People ask how you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
“And so, what you need is if everybody does a little bit, we can overcome all of this. And it’s going to take a long time, it’s not easy. And it’s a lot of hard work. People are very uncomfortable with it. But if everybody does their little part, eventually, we’ll have that groundswell of support to make it happen.”
The 90-minute roundtable was available virtually and the goal was to get viewers thinking about ways that they can help make a difference in the education process.
Nowitzki’s three children range from preschool to elementary school and he said he’s had to adjust to the American way of educating kids. In Germany, the school year has only a six-week break rather than a full summer vacation like most American schools.
“I agree with Dr. Hinojosa – this is a tough subject to talk about because it’s the future generation we’re talking about,” Nowitzki said. “We’re talking about people’s kids. And of course, it’s normal for a parent to want more for their child. And so we have to bridge that gap and keep working hard to put every kid in a situation where they can succeed.”
The key is to keep plugging away, he said.
Marshall was full of factoids as she moderated the lively discussion, such as that kids who do not read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to leave the education system without a diploma. In addition, in Dallas-Fort Worth, only 35 percent of black third graders are reading on that level, compared to 62 percent of their white peers.
Which is why, she said: “I’m just so excited that so many foundations are focused on education. As a mother of four, that’s so important to me.”
Finley’s charitable foundation has been offering a program called GIFTS: Giving Individuals Fundamental Tools for Success.
It’s based on “giving public-school kids a private-school education in the 3 ½ months that we t them,” Finley said.
And there’s a twist. The GIFTS program tries to find the best teachers in their respective fields and the parents of kids must sign a contract that they ae invested in the program, too. The idea is to give those kids a head start on whatever grade they may be heading into the next school year.
“Here in DFW, especially with black and brown schools, they’re struggling with education compared to some of the white schools in the suburbs,” Finley said. “Why is that? Why is funding different for black and brown schools? Where is the money going and why don’t black and brown schools get it?
Sorrell sees the same sorts of problems at the college level. Paul Quinn is the only historically black university in this area. He knows that when the middle class vacates an area, it puts a financial strain on educational institutions at all levels.
When the middle class leaves, Sorrell said, the disposable income leaves. So if there’s an issue, if you have parents who have economical advantages, “you can make a few phone calls” and get problems or shortages fixed.
If you don’t have that luxury, then gaps widen as the years go by and deficits are compounded.
That’s when it comes back to everybody chipping in.
“No problem is permanently solved,” Sorrell said. “You have to tell people that you believe in them and that their success is inevitable. You may stumble, but you’re going to be a success.”
And, as Hinojosa said: “People need to understand that there’s a bigger thing than us. And how we work together to make that happen is really what’s going to be important, regardless of where you live because it’s tough on everybody.”
As Marshall said, everybody can contribute. The Mavs Take ACTION is the organization’s commitment to invest $5-million and 10,000 employee volunteer hours over the next three years. Already the Mavericks have donated $1-million in personal protection equipment and other essentials for DISD.
And there is no disputing the importance of this issue. Future generations of leaders are depending on it.