Look it up in Merriam-Webster’s and you’ll find this under the definition for democracy:

“A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them through a system of representation, usually involving free elections; also, government by the people, especially, rule of the majority.”

What that means is that, in life, few things are as important as standing up to be counted.

As America prepares for one of the most emotionally charged presidential elections in history, the Mavericks want nothing more than for people in the Dallas area to turn out in huge numbers on Nov. 3 and let their voices be heard.

“To use a sports term, get off the bench and get in the game – by voting,” Mavericks’ legend and vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley said. “It’s something that people fought for – for years and years – to get the right to do.

“For us not to take advantage of it is doing a discredit to those that sacrificed – some even with their lives – so we could have the right to vote.”

Voting is a cornerstone of democracy, pure and simple, and Finley is correct. Too many people fought for the privilege of voting. To not take advantage of that is a disservice to all who sacrificed.

The Mavericks are trying to do their part to help Texans get in the game. Anyone who wants their voice heard can go to www.mavs.com/vote and find all the tools needed to register to vote before the Oct. 5 deadline and also complete the U.S. census.

Information about official polling locations, including the American Airlines Center, also can be found on the website.

On Tuesday, the Mavericks launched a tipoff of sorts that could only be called a registration drive with their inaugural HUDDLE town-hall meeting.

HUDDLE stands for Honesty, Unity, Diversity, Dialogue, Listening, Equality. It aims to be a monthly gathering for conversations among Mavericks’ current and former players, community figures and others with the goal of eliminating racial divides, uplifting communities and empowering future generations.

The first meeting included Finley, as well as former Mavericks players Nick Van Exel, Eduardo Najera and Rolando Blackman. Also joining the seven-person panel was Dawn Porter, director of the highly acclaimed film “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” along with SMU practicing attorney and clinical professor and March to the Polls board member Eric Cedillo, Faith in Texas organizer Tiara Cooper and president emeritus of the DFW Urban League, Bemnet Meshesha.

The first session was entitled “Voting Rights: The Impact of John Lewis & What It Means For Us Today.”

Lewis was the civil-rights activist and congressman who fought for equality from his teenage years until his death on July 17 at age 80. He met Dr. Martin Luther King after writing him a letter when Lewis was 18 years old. King responded by purchasing Lewis a round-trip bus ticket to Montgomery, Ala., so they could meet.

The power of the vote was always one of Lewis’ most important messages.

“He was willing to die for what he believed in – that’s pretty deep,” said Van Exel. “He actually went to school to get his butt whupped and turn the other cheek. That’s pretty deep. The things they were fighting for back then, we’re fighting for different things, but the same, which is being able to vote.

“Every time somebody knocked him down or somebody got knocked down anyplace in the world, he was always: it’s going to get better. We’re going to find a way. In basketball terms, we’d call him the little big man, with a lot of heart – fearless, courageous. And when you’re willing to die for something, that speaks volumes.”

Van Exel was part of the initial collaboration for The HUDDLE, which had its genesis after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Van Exel’s hometown.

That incident left an emotional mark on the former All-Star guard who has been back with the Mavericks for six years as a scout and various other capacities.

“It was very impactful,” Van Exel said of the Blake shooting, his voice beginning to crack as the emotions welled up. “I was on the phone with these guys talking about the situation back home. So what I did was I reached out to a prominent NBA player and see if we could do something for the kids.

“They came through and came up with a little money for the kids – I get emotional talking about it – so, scholarships for the kids. It worked out good.”

Civil unrest has brought the message of registering to vote to the front burner in society. After George Floyd was killed in Minnesota by a white officer, the Black Lives Matter movement took off.

Blake’s shooting – he was shot seven times in the back while getting into his vehicle where his kids were in the back seat – thrust more focus on the issues of social justice and a more involved plan for dealing with police-race matters.

“Your leadership on this is going to do more for voters in Dallas, in Texas – Texas is a huge swing state – and if people are registered and get out to vote, their vote cannot be suppressed,” said Porter, who joined the panelists virtually. “Really, at this stage, it’s all about getting out to vote. This is what he (Lewis) wants. He’d never say, this is how you vote. He’d say, you vote for people who are going to work in your interests.”

The film about Lewis is a powerful documentary that chronicles his life – from marching on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala., to his 30 years as a representative from Georgia in Congress.

In the film, he says he was arrested 40 times as an activist, then five more while in Congress, hence the title: Good Trouble. Even when arrested, Lewis said he had a smile on his face because he knew he “was on the right side of justice.”

Getting potential voters registered is another example of being on the right side of justice.

March to the Polls board member Cedillo said that every month, about 162,000 Hispanics turn 18 in America. About 183,000 African-Americans turn 18 every month. Getting those people registered is critical to the future of the country, he said.

Clearly, the future generation will be here quickly and their decision-making ability will be immense.

That’s why the Mavericks are trying to make The HUDDLE a consistent happening that sends positive messages about social issues to everybody.

The Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban, and CEO Cynt Marshall have pledged to work closely with The HUDDLE, which also will include contributions from president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

The HUDDLE is an arm of Mavs Take ACTION!, which is a plan emphasizing Advocacy, Communication, Training, Investment, Outreach and Noise and engages partners on more than 40 key initiatives to help make Dallas-Fort Worth a great place to live and work.

“We had a conference call – since COVID-19, we’ve been working from home – and when the injustice where Nick is from (Kenosha, Wis.) happened, we were talking with Donnie, who has a big heart,” said Najera. “We knew Nick was hurting, and so was everybody else. We started sharing testimonials and one thing led to another and we had conference calls for several weeks. We had multiple ideas and eventually, we got the Mavericks’ organization leading the way, Mark, Cynt and synergized our efforts and this came about.

“This is our first event of many. We’re don’t want to gain momentum and then stop. We’re serious about this. We’re in. We got to make a difference in the community and hopefully we have a positive influence.”

One such impactful idea came from Porter, who said Americans who want to help in the fight for equality for everybody can start with small gestures.

“Is there someone who needs a ride to the polls, who doesn’t have transportation?” she said. “Transportation is a huge thing for a lot of people, especially in COVID. Thinking of the small things you can do – don’t worry about the big things. I can give somebody a ride. I can check on my elderly neighbor or my elderly relative and make sure they have transportation. Thinking about those small things, we all together can make a big thing.”

As Blackman concluded: “These are very, very important times in our life. I’m glad to be an active member of the future forward progression. We all want to do something to impact the community and help change things for the better.”

Twitter: @ESefko


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