WILMINGTON, Ohio – Community, diversity, respect for all persons and peace & social justice are all core values at Wilmington College, and are drawn from the College's founding faith – the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Two athletic programs – the football and men's basketball teams – chose to unite and display these values during a divisive time.
The United States of America has felt like a very divided country as of late. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the social/racial unrest and an election season has not helped that divide. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May was perhaps the peak of the social unrest, and Head Football Coach Bryan Moore opened up a dialogue with his football team in the early days of June.
"We held a Zoom meeting with all of our players to let them know where we as a coaching staff stood," said Moore. "This opened up a great dialogue between our players, as we have a very diverse locker room. Players from all backgrounds were willing to express themselves. The result was our team collectively being on the same page with how we felt."
Moore then talked with just the seniors about how the locker room might be affected when everyone returned from campus. The seniors concluded two things. First, for the 3-4 hours the team is together in meetings, in the locker room or on the field. the only focus would be on football and one another. There were not outside distractions. Second, a Social Justice ACTION team was created.
This team consists of 15 players from different walks of life and meets on a weekly basis. One of these individuals, sophomore Tyreeq Nebbitt, says the Social Justice ACTION team's main purpose is to conquer all evil and raise awareness throughout the WC community about these issues.
"We have great support on campus and have already seen a great turnout," Nebbitt said. "Conquering all evil means a lot more than just racism. It's envy, hatred and all of the above."
To do this, the Social Justice ACTION team has already taken the following steps:
- Involved the local police department in conversations
- Created a team theme that embodied our message
- Involve the men's basketball program because they are a diverse group on campus as well
- Find a way to get the message out to the entire campus and community
For the second of these steps, the Social Justice ACTION team present 10 slogans to the entire team. In the end, F.A.M.I.L.Y.>ALL was the winner. Alongside the word family, it's an acronym for "Forget about me, I love you". The ALL portion is a reference to football's standards for its own program.
Once students, faculty and staff returned to campus, Moore collaborated with the men's basketball program.
"We have a lot of respect for K.C. [Hunt] and Micah [Mills] and the program they run," Moore said. "Once we were able to get both programs to engage in dialogue with each other, more ideas came to light."
Associate Head Men's Basketball Coach Micah Mills also remembered those conversations.
"Although us coaches started this dialogue, both of us want this to be spear-headed by the leaders on both of our teams," said Mills. "We are fortunate to coach two of the most diverse teams on campus and in the Ohio Athletic Conference. It's great to be able to have difficult conversations and learn to listen to each other under the team umbrella. We look forward to continuing the efforts of bringing light to this community and this country."
The men's basketball team added its slogan – "We Press On" – to the partnership. The seniors on the team chose it.
"What brings us together is we are playing the same game we all love representing the same place we all love," said Jackson Todd, a senior from Mansfield, Ohio. "That cannot be done alone, and we, both as a men's basketball team and a campus, need to press on together in good times and in bad."
For the fourth item on the Social Justice ACTION team's plan, what better way to get the message out to the Wilmington community than painting The Rock? The Rock, located in front of Wilmington's signature building, College Hall, gets painted several times throughout the year as a signal of the campus uniting together over an issue or cause. The Rock, which is normally painted in a shade of Wilmington green, is currently painted red and white, to contrast norms.
"The painting of The Rock has had a great turnout so far, but I think it's just a start," said Todd. "This campus can really build on what we've started and create an even better environment at Wilmington College going forward."
Further plans for awareness, outreach and engagement include the creation of shirts and hosting an event at semester's end with the Wilmington police department, WC's Director of Diversity & Inclusion Chip Murdock and hopefully all student-athletes at the College. The goal, according to Nebbitt, is to raise awareness and get other student-athletes involved.
"The Rock also helped us fulfill a main goal – raising awareness, and it serves as physical proof that our programs abide by these words." he said. "It can't end at just painting the Rock, however. This message needs to spread, and hopefully it resonates with our fellow student-athletes from other programs as well as other members of the campus community."