Pictured from left: Majority Leader Crystal Peoples Stokes, Marqwan Fluitt South Park High School,Steve McDuffie Bennett High Coach, Council President Darius Pridgen, Nashon Oliver #54 Bennett High School, Richard Heard #71 Bennett High School and State Senator Tim Kennedy .
“A lot of things are at stake. It’s not hardly over. We’ve got to fight like never before. – Charley H. Fisher, Coalition For Fair, Free and Equitable Athletics
In a show of unity not seen in decades in this city, the Black community rose up as one to demand justice. This time on behalf of our youth.
The Coalition for Fair, Free and Equitable Athletics chaired by Dwayne O. Taplin, sprang into action once they learned of the racially biased decision by the Section VI Football Federation to exclude city football teams – notably Bennett, Burgard, Hutch-Tech, McKinley and South Park – from competing in league play against suburban and rural teams.
Two well attended community gatherings were held by the Committee; the most recent being last Friday at the St. John Family Life Center. The purpose of those meetings was to coordinate community-led efforts to overturn the vote from Section VI and to build support around this critical issue.
At the same time there were others at work – elected officials citizens and organizations – to address the issue.
By the time the press conference was held at Bennett High School on Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday this past Monday, everybody was on board including Mayor Brown, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples Stokes, Council President Pridgen, Senator Tim Kennedy, the Coalition for Fair Free and Equitable Athletics, MVP, School Board members, parent and community groups, elected officials, former Bills legends Booker Edgerson and Thurman Thomas, community media groups, coaches, players and parents.
Mayor Brown was firm as he admonished the powers that be in the spirit of Dr. King, to do the right thing as he called for a “prompt, equitable solution” to the matter. “The time is always right to do what is right,” he said quoting Dr. King.
Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes called the Section V1 controversy “probably one of the most important issues that will impact us this year.”
“Now is not the time to step backwards, but to step forward to include people – not exclude” she said addressing Section VI leaders. “Keep it positive and change this decision!”
Senator Tim Kennedy referred to the issue as “an unfortunate disparity taking place right before our eyes…this decision is not right and needs to be reversed.”
Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, a youth spokesperson, and Council President Darius Pridgen also spoke and called for unity and equity.
Former Legislator and We Are Women Warriors founder, Betty Jean Grant, speaking to the Challenger after the press conference, made it plain.
“When you exclude Buffalo (from the league) you exclude the majority of African American football players,” said Grant. “Is it racism? Yes it is! Is it discrimination? Yes it is! But for Dr. King Day let’s go forward and restore our youth to Section VI football!”
-Just For a Season?-
The groundswell from this community and its supporters apparently made an impact.
Before the day ended the local governing body for Section VI high school sports agreed to delay the changes for next season.
But what about the seasons to follow?
“A lot of things are at stake…,” community activist Charley Fisher told the challenger Tuesday morning. “We still got to fight…it’s not hardly over . We’ve got to fight like never before.”
Among other things, Buffalo, he said, must have representation going forward. “We should have 8 of the 32 memberships and we should have at least 2 of those executive committee memberships.”
He said the actions of the Section V1 are nothing short of “blatant racism and blatant isolation of our kids.”
“On Monday MLK’s birthday they did as requested – rescinded the action, but they did not move the goal post. They’re not saying they’re not giving this up. ”
Strong coalitions made up of parents, coaches, community leaders, elected officials youth and more are critical now and are going to be critical in the future, said Fisher.
(In addition to Fisher who serves as Recorder/Secretary, and Dwayne O. Taplin as Chair of The Coalition for Fair, Free and Equitable Athletics, Patrick Freeman is parliamentarian and Historian and Richard Cummings , Treasurer.)