Elmont Memorial High School senior Jason Richardson has been active in the community for years — tutoring underclassmen in Spanish and handing out food and drinks at football games. Now, he is being recognized as a community leader by Team Up for Unity.
The program, a collaboration between the Long Island Nets basketball team and the Nassau County Section VIII and Suffolk County Section XI athletic associations, seeks to combat racism in high school sports on Long Island by providing local high schools with access to information and helpful resources on diversity, equity and inclusion.
As part of the program, athletic directors at schools participating in the Team Up for Unity program were asked to canvas their rosters for community leaders that would moderate a 45-minute virtual discussion with experts in the field of racism and bias in American society.
Topics to be discussed include the effects of transgender rulings on girls’ sports, privilege, issues related to Hispanic and Sikh students, bullying, taking the high road in difficult situations and working on the assumption that Black athletes are “somehow supernatural” at sports, according to Uniondale High School Athletic Director Jonathan Jefferson, who is leading the program for Nassau County Section VIII.
“Immediately Jason was my number one choice,” said Christopher Agostino, athletic director of Elmont Memorial High School. “This kid has never waivered, and always puts the community first.”
Richardson has not experienced racism himself as a football and lacrosse player at Elmont Memorial High School himself, he said, but understands that it is a “big issue in today’s society.”
“Students see the energy that came to a head with the George Floyd killing,” Jefferson explained, and this is a way for students to share their thoughts with their colleagues and have uncomfortable discussions about race.
Schools registered with the Team Up for Unity program will have the opportunity to participate in equality and anti-racism events and trainings, including “chalk talks” with Long Island Nets players and staff on their experiences with racism and bias, and virtual conversations with business leaders to hear how they are trying to combat social injustices and systemic racism.
Administrators will also join quarterly panels hosted by Syosset-based ERASE Racism, and anonymous surveys will be distributed to student athletes at the participating schools in order to highlight the frequency of students’ experiences with racism and bias during Long Island high school sporting events.
The point, Jefferson said, is to have “zero tolerance” for racism and intolerance in high school sports — something Alton Byrd, vice president of growth properties for BSE Global and the Long Island Nets, said has previously plagued Long Island sporting events.
So, he and Long Island athletic association officials spent about five to six months brainstorming ways to address the issue, and working on a curriculum for the Team Up for Unity program, which officially began this month. “We hope this has a legacy,” Byrd said, noting in a statement that “sports have historically played a powerful role in uniting people, and often that has resulted in furthering social justice.”
“We need to make people understand that we’re all one,” Richardson added. “We all have the same goal — we all want to win.”