The Dallas Mavericks — in partnership with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, and Indiana Pacers, along with the WNBA’s Dallas Wings, Minnesota Lynx and Indiana Fever — hosted the Team Up For Change virtual summit on Oct. 21.

This was put in place to unite, activate and inspire a shared commitment and call for social justice and racial equality. 

The expanded multi-day experience was followed by a week (Oct. 22-28) of community activations in team markets and a nine-part content series. The various conversations centered on racial equality, voting, social justice and a number of entities that need to be accomplished in order to level the playing field.

The Mavericks contributed to Team Up For Change with inclusion ambassador Chris Arnold hosting a panel of four community leaders from the Dallas-Fort Worth area on the importance of civic engagement, and on voting on both the local and national levels. That panel included Akilah Wallace, Veronica Torres Hazley, Elizabeth Henneke and Xavier Henderson.

Wallace is the executive director of Faith In Texas, which is a non-partisan multi-racial multi-faith grassroots movement of people united in values working together to achieve economic, racial and social justice for all people. She spoke about the role institutions of faith can play in everyone’s right to vote in the upcoming election while in the midst of this pandemic.

“My first recommendation is for people of faith — our clergy and other institutions of religion and spirituality — to first just allow healing spaces and the opportunity for people to just be able to feel seen, to feel heard and that they can have a space to just breathe,” Wallace said. “People are experiencing a lot of loss in this pandemic — they’re grieving.

“They’re grieving the loss of people, they’re grieving the loss of ideas that they had for this year, they’re grieving the loss of plans that they may have had. That on top of the heightened divide that our nation is feeling is creating all types of mixed emotions that people are holding. So it’s really important that our religious leaders, our spiritual leaders, as well as just every day people who are leaning into whatever their core value system may be, that they one, create opportunities for community engagements, but also spaces where you don’t have any expectations.”

The founder of the Hey Chical Movement, Hazley has high expectations in helping Latinos realize the power that they have when it comes to voting.

“We were taught early on in being raised Mexican-American, keep your head down, don’t get involved, the system is not for us,” Hazley said. “We just need to work hard and do our part, and that’s our American Dream. So we weren’t taught to go vote, we weren’t shown the example of why we vote.

“So now I have to switch gears and I have to be that voice that I was looking for (for) so long. I was looking for someone that looked like me that told me, ‘Hey, this is why we’re voting.’ So that’s the birth of Hey Chical. It was because there was nothing like it to inspire me as a third, fourth, even second generation Mexican to go out and do it.”

Hazley, thus, established a Latino voter campaign for the Hey Chical Movement, and it is thriving.

“Historically, Latinos don’t vote,” Hazley said. “I read an article that says no one focuses on talking to the Latino community because they’re not voting and they don’t show up to vote.

“People are now upset like, ‘We’re not showing up, because you’re not coming and knocking on my door.’ “

Henneke, whose father was a prison corrections officer, grandfather was an assistant warden and grandmother is a sheriff deputy, explained that knocking on doors and convincing people that their vote does count is extremely important. Henneke is the founder and executive director of the Lone Star Justice Alliance, which is a non-profit legal organization that improves the lives of youths and emerging adults in the justice system.

“I am a white woman who grew up on a prison,” Henneke said. “So I grew up in communities of law enforcement who believed so much in justice and fairness. But observing the system as a kid. . .I would see the men and women that were behind the bars, and they didn’t look a heck of a lot different from me and my experiences. The only thing that defined them differently was the color of their skin, so I started watching trials and trying to figure out how the bars were separating my community from so many others, and here is what I found. I found that we had systematically excluded people of color from the opportunities that I had been afforded.

“So I determined really young that I would be a part of the solutions, and I feel like there’s a lot of people in the white community and my community that are wanting to be really pro-active about being a part of solutions and they’re looking for solutions. I think we’re tired of not seeing our DA’s (district attorneys), our judges, our local elected officials take a stand for the people that matter to all of us, so I’m excited about that, and I’m excited that we have an opportunity to bring back those who have been excluded from the vote. So you’ve seen efforts to allow people who have criminal convictions to regain their right to vote.”

While Henneke noted that “the entire white community and many other communities have over the summer woken up to the plight that has been existing for black and brown communities for far too long,” Henderson has been busy giving sage advice to black men and women who don’t think politics are for them. Henderson is the co-founder and director of Strategy For Oak Cliff, which is a culturally responsible organization addressing the needs of Oak Cliff communities with the goal to increase social capital.

“If you look through our history and you look at modern day, there have been systemic attempts to discourage and minimize our voice and vote, especially within our black neighborhood,” Henderson said. “That along is a reason we need to make sure that we have our voice reflected. You want your voice represented in that decision-making in a very impactful and meaningful way.”

Meanwhile, the Mavs put together a plan called “Mavs Take Action” to talk about stereotypes and biases and about how they can be overcome.

“The way to ensure that change is made going forward is to make it very personal” Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall said. “A personal role to open up our circles and to open up our silos and let people in.

“A personal role to play to learn about race in this country and the history of race. A personal role to play to challenge beliefs and biases and stereotypes, and to allow people to challenge us. There’s a personal action plan that we all have to make.”

Gregg Bibb, the president and CEO of the Dallas Wings, chimed in: “We as a group have become more engaged, more educated and more inspired to activate and impact change.”

The Mavs and Wings focused on civic engagement and voting via the Count It Coalition initiative, which is a non-partisan coalition of North Texas professional basketball teams committed to promoting national and local civic engagement, raising awareness and increasing DFW voter access and participation for the current election and the Census.

Former Mavs forward Harrison Barnes discussed the significance of voting and the power behind that respective vote.

“I think voting is important because it’s our civic responsibility to have a voice in not only who is representing us, but how we see that person implement our thoughts, and our value systems into the policies that are our society,” said Barnes, who now plays for the Kings. “Growing up in Iowa we were around the political atmosphere a lot, so those were conversations that would come up as you were growing up. And then when you had the opportunity to vote, it was a big deal.”

Mavs owner Mark Cuban has opened up American Airlines Center and used it as a place for people to vote early and on Nov. 3 on election date. The AAC is the largest voting facility in Dallas County.

In the meantime, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive described how men in his powerful position must be held accountable to serving those within his community.

“When you own a (NBA) basketball team you’re one of 30 people who has this honor,” Ranadive said. “With this privilege comes great responsibility.

“All of the privileges we have, we must never take for granted. It’s about not just Black Lives Matter, but it’s about everything — businesses, education, career paths. Let’s work together and let’s be that change. What we want to do is provide an on-ramp with all of the young people in our city.”

That on-ramp recently took center stage when NBA and WNBA players had a Black Live Matter slogan on the back of their jersey during games inside their respective bubble in Florida.

“We started this year by dedicating the entire 2020 season to social justice and the Say Her Name campaign,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “We need to keep applying pressure.

“We have to have a real strategy in our next steps. We need to move toward actions.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice 

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