Black entertainers, athletes converge to deliver messages of social activism

From sports to music, Black influencers are speaking out.

August 01, 2020, 5:33 PM

Black talent has been at the forefront of television and entertainment for decades. In Google's 2020 commercial honoring Black History Month, dozens of Black icons were among the most searched in American history. From the "most searched athlete" -- LeBron James -- to the "most searched Pulitzer winner" -- rapper Kendrick Lamar -- the commercial emphasized "the history makers and those they inspire across the world."

While the country faces a racial reckoning after the police-involved killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, countless Black influencers have voiced their frustrations with mistreatment toward Black citizens in America.

The push for change isn't new; many entertainers have embraced social activism as a second job, advocating for communities, providing funding and implementing new projects for generations. Black athletes, musicians and creators have sacrificed and converged their platforms and popularity to push for activism and social justice.


Activism in sports has a long and defiant history -- from the 1968 Olympic podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos' fists in the air to NBA players wearing 'Black Lives Matter' shirts while kneeling in unison during the National Anthem before tip-off at Thursday night's NBA Game in Orlando, Florida.

As the NBA resumed the 2020 season under coronavirus safety guidelines, NBA players voiced their concerns over two pandemics: playing during COVID-19 and resuming play in the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"A lot of players had conversations about should we play or shouldn't we play and one of the biggest things about coming to play was how do we keep social justice issues at the forefront?" NBA player Chris Paul told "Good Morning America" in an exclusive interview with co-host Michael Strahan.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Lakers players, including LeBron James and Anthony Davis, wear Black Lives Matter shirts as they kneel during the national anthem prior to an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, July 30, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Los Angeles Lakers players, including LeBron James, third from left, and Anthony Davis, second from right, wear Black Lives Matter shirts as they kneel during the national anthem prior to an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, July 30, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Mike Ehrmann/AP

Three NBA stars, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Paul, all of whom have participated in peaceful demonstrations on and off the court, announced the Social Change Fund, an initiative to provide more opportunities in Black and brown communities, nationwide -- expanding education, economic equity, efforts to end police brutality, advocating for voting rights and supporting civic engagement.

Anthony, a forward for the Portland Trail Blazers, said they were initial donors of the fund and will partner with other organizations to help execute the program's goals.

"A lot of times you hear of a fund and people going out to raise money without even putting any skin into the game. ... We go out there to these other companies and other brands to show them that we are serious about building this social change fund," Anthony added.

These acts are a continuum of Colin Kaepernick's protest in 2016.

The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback was criticized by NFL fans and ostracized from the league after kneeling during the National Anthem in a 2016 game -- ultimately losing his job and some sponsorships. He later pledged $1M to local charities across the country, a project he completed in 2018. Kaepernick launched a 'Know Your Rights Camp,' an initiative to help educate Black and brown youth.

In 2020, while the country and other parts of the world grappled with racial injustice, and many businesses showed support of the Black Lives Matter movement -- the NFL's commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he was wrong not to support players like Kaepernick.

PHOTO: Natasha Cloud marches to the MLK Memorial to support Black Lives Matter and marking the end of slavery in the U.S., on June 19, 2020, in Washington.
Natasha Cloud marches to the MLK Memorial to support Black Lives Matter and marking the end of slavery in the U.S., on June 19, 2020, in Washington. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union general read orders in Galveston, Texas stating all enslaved people in Texas were free according to federal law.
Michael A. Mccoy/Getty Images

The WNBA has taken a leading role in pushing for change as it returned to the court in late July. The league dedicated its season to social justice, launched The Justice Movement, and have worn "Black Lives Matter" and "Say Her Name" on their warmup shirts.

The league has years of history in fighting for social change. Minnesota star forward Maya Moore, a four-time WNBA champion and former MVP, even went as far as to sit out the 2019 season in order to call attention to the case of Jonathan Irons, who had spent 22 years in prison for a burglary he says he didn't commit as a 16-year-old. He had his conviction overturned last month and Moore was there to see him released. Stars Renee Montgomery, Tiffany Hayes and Natasha Cloud have chosen to sit out this abbreviated season in protest.

Cloud has publicly attended rallies for the BLM movement, including one in Washington, D.C., where she plays for the Mystics, this year on Juneteenth.

TV and Film

Filmmakers have made their passionate plea against systemic injustices in their most trusted platform, their art. Throughout their visual medium of storytelling, they've honored black victims and fought racial injustice. Spike Lee's fictional character Radio Raheem in "Do The Right Thing" is based on the 1983 killing of Michael Stewart in New York. From Spike Lee to Ava Duvernay's 2014 "Selma" and award-winning documentary "13th," dozens of major films and series vividly portray real-life scenarios of oppression and the effects of systemic racism.

Actor Michael B. Jordan and Color of Change, one of the largest racial justice organizations in the country, announced the #ChangeHollywood Initiative, a program created to provide more opportunities for television writers, directors and actors of color.

"It's about power. It's about the historical aspects of who has gotten to tell stories and who hasn't, whose stories have been mainstreamed, whose stories have been marginalized," Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, told ABC News. "Hollywood does in many ways, have an unforgivable history of stifling black voices, black talent, black creativity and black brilliance," Robinson added.

PHOTO: Actor Michael B. Jordan speaks on stage during the 47th American Film Institute Life Achievement Award Gala in Hollywood on June 6, 2019.
Actor Michael B. Jordan speaks on stage during the 47th American Film Institute Life Achievement Award Gala in Hollywood on June 6, 2019.
Jean-baptiste Lacroix/AFP via Getty Images

Jordan, an award-winning actor, is no stranger to social justice-themed projects and amplifying Black stories. In 2013, he starred in "Fruitvale Station," a movie based on the real-life story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant who was fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer. In 2019, he starred in "Just Mercy," where he portrayed Bryan Stevenson, a real-life lawyer who defended wrongfully convicted prisoners, most of whom were Black.

"What we've tried to pull together here is a real sort of opportunity for the industry, and that is saying, Black Lives Matter, to actually put some energy in some numbers behind actually making Black Lives Matter," Robinson added.

Only 27.6% of lead actors in film were minorities compared to 72.4% of their white counterparts in 2019, according to the 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity report. Though Hollywood has made improvements on screen, behind the camera tells a different story. The study revealed that women writers and directors are outnumbered by white men nearly 3 to 1. White film writers make up 86.1% of the industry compared to 13.9% for minorities -- an issue that Color of Change and Jordan say they are committed to improving.

"We need people to join us to act, to put their money, their voice, their resources, and their talent behind ending systemic racism and opening up a society, so all of us can have the opportunities that we deserve," Robinson said.


Hip-hop remains at the epicenter of social activism, through lyrics and performance. Since the early days of hip-hop, rappers and artists have criticized America's blind eye to some of the most oppressed communities in the country.

Grammy-nominated rapper Cordae Dunston, known by his stage name Cordae, speaks about the challenges as a Black man in America through his music.

Dunston was one of 87 demonstrators arrested while protesting on Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's lawn earlier this month. Protesters with the social organization Until Freedom organized the sit-in demanding justice for Taylor, who was killed after three Louisville police officers issued a no-knock warrant, firing over 20 shots and striking Taylor eight times in her home.

"I took that very personally, but that especially hit because that very well could have been one of my sisters or my cousin." Dunston said. "I felt like Breonna was being forgotten about and I just felt we needed to do something to bring more awareness rather than just posting about it."

The rapper called the protests "powerful and necessary." Dunston related his recent demonstration and arrest to the historical Montgomery Bus boycott and Greensboro sit-ins during the civil rights era.

Dunston said he was unafraid of the repercussions of his actions. "For a lot of artists in the entertainment industry, we can't become too jaded with what's going on with our personal lives and still not be connected with our people ... if you're thinking about your brand over your people, you've lost yourself."

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