Social Justice Alliance forged between two Md. colleges serving as model in other states

Sports have always played a large role in the discussion of race in America. From Jackie Robinson to Bill Russell and Muhammed Ali, sports have had a huge impact on the Civil Rights movement over the years.

That still hasn’t changed today, and so that’s the topic that will be discussed at this year’s fifth annual Social Justice Alliance symposium between Bowie State University and the University of Maryland.

“The sports world is sort of a high-profile microcosm… of the rest of society,” said Rick Collins, who along with his wife Dawn, helped create the Social Justice Alliance between the two schools after their son Richard was stabbed to death on the University of Maryland’s campus.

Richard was days away from graduating from Bowie State University and joining the U.S. Army as an officer when he was killed in 2017.

“It’s kind of a good laboratory for looking at the intersection of racism throughout the larger society,” Rick Collins said.

Those who are participating in the symposium this year include Etan Thomas, a former member of the Washington Wizards who now speaks as an activist, as well as former Olympian Dominique Dawes, and Marissa Coleman, a former member of the Terrapin women’s basketball team who also played with the Washington Mystics during a lengthy WNBA career.

Maryland football coach Mike Locksley, who founded the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches and was recently named the second-most influential Black figure in college football, is also participating.

Topics of discussion include social justice issues facing athletes and the professional and collegiate levels, as well as Title IX, women in sports, and pay inequality.

“There’s some behaviors allowed by some and if others do the same thing there’s an outcry,” said Dawn, highlighting what she believes is a disparity in how minority athletes are perceived and talked about by sports media.

“Different treatment for different individuals,” noted Rick. “Oftentimes you can’t help but wonder if race was a factor.”

He said that was less common in what happens on the field, as opposed to what athletes do and say outside of the arena.

“Depending on who you are, you might be covered more negatively in the media than some other athlete… which is a reflection, I think, of the larger public sector,” he said.

While this year’s symposium focuses on athletics, other topics have been talked about in the past, including last year, when the focus was on anti-racism and racially-equitable social and public policy.

The symposium at Bowie State runs from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday and is open to the public. It’s also serving as a model for similar alliances being forged by other schools in other states.

“The universities are places of truth and unity,” said Dawn. While it’s too early to announce which schools are developing similar alliances, she did add that “there’s been interest in several schools in different parts of the country.”

Those new alliances will also bring together HBCUs and schools with predominantly white student bodies.

“We’re early on, but we are making inroads and outreach to other institutions of higher learning,” said Rick.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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