FSU men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton — We’ve made progress, but George Floyd, protests show we must keep fighting

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[Editor’s note: Florida State men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, 71, has spent the past 40-plus years along the sidelines after playing at the University of Tennessee at Martin. With the recent uptick of protests and tension since the death of George Floyd, he wanted to share his personal story. Hamilton shared his thoughts before Thursday’s controversy surrounding the Florida State football program, and has since declined to comment on that matter.]

The police brutality that led to George Floyd’s death is a sign of one of the biggest and toughest opponents we face in this country: social injustice. I cannot tell you how painful and difficult it was to watch a police officer push the life out of someone while that someone called for his mother, who died two years ago. The officer knew he was being recorded, and yet he kept pushing. For an individual to think it’s OK to put your knee on someone’s neck for that long when they’re not moving speaks volumes about their mindset. That the other officers watched and participated is just as disturbing.

To be honest, I feel helpless. I want to cry. I want to cry for George Floyd’s children, his brothers, his relatives.

I grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina, during segregation. I lived through the sit-ins, used the colored bathroom, the colored water fountain. I wasn’t able to eat in certain restaurants, and I had to sit up in the balcony at movie theaters. When I played basketball, there were some hotels where we couldn’t stay because I was a member of the team.

There were people then who made sacrifices — people who were bitten by dogs, had water hoses used on them, and people who gave their lives — for me to have this opportunity. I would be less than honest if I didn’t identify the fact that we’ve made some progress. But we still have a long way to go. For the people who made those sacrifices, I would not allow myself to be discouraged when things were not going my way. I had to figure out a way to honor the people whose shoulders I stood on by finding a way to overcome whatever challenges I had with hard work and a positive attitude, regardless of how painful it was. I had to honor them by not getting emotional, and I’ve always felt like it’s important to try to be a part of the solution, and not be a divisive force.

“We need to have a call to action of an official, authorized national task force where we bring all public entities together and make a commitment to move forward with the all-out intent of finding a solution to deal with all the ills of our society. All of us have to be a part of it, not just our elected officials.”

Leonard Hamilton

As I watch on TV, I see people from all races, young and old, energized at a level that is really, really different than what I’ve seen in the past. People want change. They want more than statements. They want our actions to make a statement.

We have institutes, coalitions, think tanks, initiatives led by the Black Caucus, along with foundations that are funded to address the ills in our society. They can produce the best studies and reports, but it means nothing if we do not act and put resources behind it. There’s a passage in the Bible, in the Book of James, where it says, “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, we can have faith, we can have ideas, but if we do not work to make the changes, we are nothing but “a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,” to quote another scripture passage.

In all sincerity, we need to have a call to action of an official, authorized national task force where we bring all public entities together and make a commitment to move forward with the all-out intent of finding a solution to deal with all the ills of our society. All of us have to be a part of it, not just our elected officials. We have a lot of great minds in America, from all walks of life. We all need to chip in and be a part of this and hold ourselves accountable. In addition, exercising our right to vote has to be a priority.

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