Jonathan Lewis must be looking forward to competing for a spot on the U-23 U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) Olympic qualifying roster. Lewis and 47 other elite footballers will arrive in Guadalajara, Mexico, next month. By March 8th, we will know who will be on head coach Jason Kreis’ 20-man roster (17 field players plus three goalkeepers) to compete in the Concacaf Olympics qualifiers that kick-off on March 18th.
Lewis and many of his fellow U.S. teammates are also on a continuum of sorts that commenced with the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida last year. A continuance of challenging and neutralizing the institutional racism, police brutality, and social injustice that plagues America. MLS and USMNT players alike have been consistently expressing their support for much-needed change in our nation.
“Be The Change” was their message at the USMNT friendly against Trinidad and Tobago on January 31. The Americans wore warm-up shirts with “Be The Change” on the front and “Black Lives Still Matter” on the back. And just as many sports and entertainment professionals have, many of these young role models have launched formidable initiatives to help eradicate white supremacy and all forms of racial injustice.
Black Lives Still Matter.— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) February 1, 2021
Be The Change. pic.twitter.com/IoDz1nOvwa
While participating in a recent USMNT camp, Lewis said that he appreciated that Gregg Berhalter communicated his genuine support of the players peaceful, yet poignant, demonstrations and actions.
“As a Black player especially, to have a coach on the other side and you can say that he really supports us, I think it means a lot,” said Lewis. “He came up to us as a team and approached us and said, ‘What can we do more?’ He wants to learn. He wants to be more involved. He wants to do his part, and he even said it from the start, what we’re doing right now is not good enough. He wants to do more.
“So, it empowers the whole team ... to want to step and want to be that change. That is was what was on our shirts — Be The Change. It is our motto moving forward, and it starts with him,” Lewis continued. “To see it that it comes down from him, it has a trickle-down effect. And it is really empowering. We know how passionate he is as a coach, but to see how passionate he is about this subject, for me as a player, I know that I can be comfortable around Gregg about talking about these [subjects] with him.”
“It means a whole lot to me,” Berhalter said about the Black Lives Matter movement after the match. “And it’s not only supporting the effort of the group, but it’s supporting the cause. That’s what’s most important to me.
“The Black Lives Matter cause is real,” he said. We need to do more for equity. We need to do more to close the economic gap. We need to do more for education of impoverished communities. And that’s what we should be striving for. I mean when you talk about this great country of ours being the land of opportunity, it really needs to be the land of opportunity for everyone.”
Whether it was from behind my long lens and camera or makeshift writer’s desk within a neighborhood cafe, it’s become obvious how entrenched white supremacy is in our society. Sadly, 2020 showed even more how deep this ugly ideology is engrained in our society.
Racism is a disease. We are not born with it. It is acquired. Regrettably, it is a lifestyle for too many Americans, blatantly and under the cover of darkness, admitted and rebuffed, conscious and unconscious.
The deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Elijah McClain right here in Colorado, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Amy Cooper’s confrontation with birder-watcher Chris Cooper in Manhattan’s Central Park precipitated hundreds of tense social justice demonstrations last year. While many called for calm, open dialogue, and appreciation, just as many leveraged their own crowd psychology and spewed out derogatory epithets, vile hate, and reckless anger. We witnessed it again, in high-definition, on January 6th.
And we cannot stop until there is liberty and justice for all, as both are God-given and every citizen’s constitutional right.
The good Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.” Read the entire “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” speech from March 31, 1968, here.
And so, it is up to us to continue to push for social justice and racial equality, like Lewis, his U.S. and MLS teammates, Berhalter and Kreis, and their respective leagues and organizations.
Another Black History Month has come to an end; however, this movement has not and should not. Be relentless. Do not settle for the status quo. Where we collectively stand is not good enough. Awaken activism in this we-can-be-a-better nation. Catalyze the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations and move this ball forward every month. Hold said commitments to the fire, and see that concrete initiatives and actions are completed.
Be part of the change.