By Bridget Gum-Egan
RECENTLY, LeBron James surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of basketball’s leading scorer. While most profiles about James were centered around his talent and skills on the court, few mentioned another side to him: his activism and philanthropic efforts.
James chooses to fight for and support the Black community through his platform. Unfortunately, the Black community has been through a lot of prominent social issues relating to police brutality in the past few years with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, as well as other injustices and inequalities. These issues are very contested and dividing, which occasionally cause immense backlash against James, as well as other Black celebrities who bring attention to these causes.
James is not the only celebrity to give to charities or speak out against social issues. Back in 1967, Abdul-Jabbar and other famous Black individuals got together for an event, The Cleveland Summit, to show their support for Muhammad Ali, a famous boxer who had been barred from boxing because he refused to fight in the Vietnam War.
Following in Abdul-Jabbar’s footsteps, James and many of his Miami Heat teammates tweeted out a photo of them wearing hoodies obscuring their faces with their heads down to highlight the anger the Black community felt after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager who was shot by a member of the neighborhood watch when he was walking home in 2012, dressed in a similar hoodie.
However, athletes are not the only ones who use their platforms for good. Singer-songwriter Lizzo recently won a People’s Choice Award, and instead of the typical acceptance speech where artists talk about their lives, feelings and hard work, Lizzo used that time to honor activists. Among the 17 activists she brought on stage and introduced was Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, who was killed during a police raid of her home. Palmer has since become heavily involved in the BLM movement in order to seek justice for her daughter and others who are victims of police brutality and violence.
While these celebrities use their spotlight for good, fame can be a double-edged sword. All of these above-mentioned celebrities and others who are involved in activism and philanthropy receive heavy scrutiny. Many of them are often told to “stay in their lane” or simply “do their job” and that they have no authority to speak on these matters. Nevertheless, these celebrities continue to expose these issues to their fan base.
Though college is in a much smaller arena, there are students at Rider who help educate and support their communities. One is Abraham Ohiokhai-Benson, a junior business analytics major and thrower on Rider’s track and field team. Ohiokhai-Benson is also secretary of Rider African Student Association (RASA) and treasurer of Black Men Unified (BMU). RASA’s goal is to spread education about African culture and dispel its negative connotations. Similarly, BMU works to bring Black men together and fight against negative stereotypes, according to Ohiokhai-Benson.
“I feel like when you’re watching a movie you see like, someone Black doing something bad or … gang violence,” said Ohiokhai-Benson when speaking about negative stereotypes. “In Africa, people just refer to our countries as dirty … but there are a lot of beautiful countries and places in Africa.”
While Ohiokhai-Benson wouldn’t refer to himself as an activist because he believes that title carries weight and should be attributed to those who do more work for their communities, he is involved in these clubs and works with them to create a better-educated Rider community. He also has a fairly substantial following due to his involvement in track and field which he uses to bring attention to the events these clubs put on.
Ohiokhai-Benson expressed his amazement by how Black celebrities such as James have used their platforms to help their communities. Even though Ohiokhai-Benson does not believe he will go into the sports industry professionally, he hopes that he will become involved with philanthropic or activist organizations and efforts.
“I had a single mom and the way she is, like I’ve never seen someone so giving, and honestly that is embedded in me from her,” he said. “And no matter what I have and no matter what place I am in life, I would always want to give to others.”
Ohiokhai-Benson does see the potential backlash for speaking out or supporting certain organizations; however, he views it as “one of those red flags that we basically [have to] ignore because unfortunately, there’s always a dark side to everything.”
Using one’s platform to bring attention to the topics they choose to discuss is very useful because it reaches a large audience. However, that also can bring severe ridicule and judgment. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but when celebrities voice their opinions, it wields greater influence. Shouldn’t it be used to highlight important social issues and do good for others?