HOUSTON — As the executive director of a small non-profit, Sharlen Moore is happy to talk with anyone who wants to know more about her organization and its work with economically disadvantaged teenagers.
So when a man from California called last fall, she thought nothing of it. Didn’t even realize until after they’d hung up that the Cat Collins she’d been talking with works with Colin Kaepernick.
Then a check for $25,000 arrived.
“For (larger, national non-profits), that’s a drop in the bucket. For us, $25,000 is huge. We can do a lot with $25,000,” said Moore, whose Urban Underground offers leadership training, helps with college preparation and applications, and provides job opportunities for teens in Milwaukee.
“We’re not getting funds like that,” Moore added. “To have made such a large gift is beyond meaningful for us. It is beyond meaningful.”
Kaepernick ignited a firestorm when he refused to stand for the national anthem as a way of calling attention to racial oppression and police brutality, a protest that spread quickly throughout the NFL. As he and players from nearly a third of the teams in the league knelt, raised fists or stood with arms locked, there was a loud chorus of criticism from those who felt they were being disrespectful.
But the protests stirred some to action. And it’s those actions that could continue making an impact long after the images of sideline protests have faded.
In November, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins led a group of five players who went to Washington to meet with Congressional leaders and learn how to make policy changes. The San Francisco Foundation is finalizing plans for programs designed to help improve relations between law enforcement and communities of color.
The initiatives will be funded through a $500,000 grant from the San Francisco 49ers, one of two the team made to Bay Area organizations focused on improving racial and economic equality. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation also got $500,000 from the 49ers.
“When you talk about the issues of inclusion and equality and equity and what does it mean to have a vibrant community, communities where people feel they belong and feel safe, it’s important to have conversations like this between law enforcement and people of color,” said Gail Fuller, the vice president of marketing and strategic communication for the San Francisco Foundation.
In Miami, that’s already started.
The four Dolphins players who protested — Arian Foster, Jelani Jenkins, Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas — held a forum in September with community leaders, local coaches and representatives from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Miami Gardens Police Department and Miami-Dade Schools Police Department.
The players explained why they were protesting, then listened as others described how they saw the protests.
“I thought it was a positive thing,” said Steve Kinsey, the Broward County Undersheriff. “I respect their right to protest. It doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I don’t live in their world and they don’t live in my world. Part of the discussion was that we need a better understanding of people who aren’t like us and where they come from.”
But most of the discussion focused on the need for players and law enforcement to be more engaged in the community and how best to do that. One possibility: Recruiting law enforcement officers to coach youth sports teams, after someone pointed out that most of his coaches growing up had been police officers.
“Let these kids, especially kids from disadvantaged areas, know there are positive male role models out there both in professional football and the law enforcement community,” Kinsey said.
“Something all agreed was very important was that we have follow-up,” Kinsey added. “A lot of times what happens with these forums is we all say this great stuff and then nothing ever comes off it. And we all agreed that we didn’t want that to happen.”
As for Kaepernick, he has been speaking to school groups and gradually doling out the $1 million he pledged to give to community organizations.
Each month, Kaepernick awards $100,000 in grants to a handful of local groups. Though he gave $50,000 last month for a health clinic at Standing Rock, the other donations have been for $25,000 and spread among several groups.
While the recipients are all over the country, there is a common theme: all are small, locally-based programs that would likely be passed over by larger philanthropic foundations.
“We work with teens, which is a population that a lot of funders do not pour dollars into because the sentiment is, ‘Let’s get them when they’re young so let’s invest in programs for younger children,’ ” Moore said. “Yes, that’s absolutely true. But there’s a continuum. Funding has to continue to be strong if not stronger.”
Milwaukee, Moore pointed out, is the most segregated city in the country. Its poverty rate is among the worst, and the state had the highest rate of incarceration for black males in 2014.
Of the teens who complete Urban Underground, 98% earn their high school diploma or GED and 85% enroll in a two- or four-year college.
“We want young people to use their intelligence and their talents to change the communities they live in,” Moore said. “We have to be able to train and educate young people so they can have a change in mindset.”
Moore wouldn’t say what she thought of the anthem protests, repeating what she tells the Urban Underground teens: Educate yourself and then do what you think is right.
But regardless of what you think of Kaepernick and the other players’ methods, there can be no criticizing the results.
“If he didn’t do what he did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. Urban Underground wouldn’t have received the funds we did,” Moore said. “He is one of the very few people who has re-invested his own money back into communities that really needed the support.”
Kaepernick and his fellow protesters left their mark on the NFL this season. That they are leaving their mark in communities around the country is of far greater importance.