HACKENSACK, N.J. -- As Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the nation this past summer following the Memorial Day slaying of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Hackensack was among the countless cities to rise up demanding justice for all the black lives lost to police brutality and systemic racism.
Apart from the impassioned city residents who organized two massive demonstrations at the courthouse in June, city officials also took action to express their support. The Board of Education in June passed a resolution setting forth various objectives from hiring to supporting grassroots school activities to sustain culturally relevant initiatives in order to commit to anti-racism and cultural proficiency in city public schools. On the governmental front, Mayor John Labrosse took the Mayor’s Pledge, an advocacy initiative implemented by the Obama Foundation and the My Brother's Keeper Alliance to call upon mayors across the country to review the police use of force policies in their municipalities, among other objectives. And, this past week, three months after a comprehensive review, the city council passed a resolution approving a purchasing agreement for 120 body worn cameras for the Police Department to “further improve police accountability and lower reports of misconduct,” according to the mayor.
Now, action is being taken among a trio of New Jersey high school athletic coaches to work towards eliminating injustice on the football field. Head football coach Marion Bell, of Newark West Side High School, Benjie Wimberly of Hackensack High School, and former Willingboro assistant Luther Johnson who is the founder of the College Gridiron Experience are among the so-called founding fathers of the New Jersey Minority Coaches Association. The group aims to be the voice for minority groups and help members such as coaches and student-athletes develop and thus empower them through character building, instilling leadership qualities, honing time management skills, in addition to providing a greater knowledge of athletics and level of professionalism through understanding of the game.
The association was borne from a Zoom conversation in March that involved roughly 30 coaches who discussed their witnessing of discrimination among officiators’ calls to the gross lack of college recruitment opportunities for talented inner-city student-athletes.
“I had some concerns about kids getting recruited in certain areas of New Jersey that were not,” said Bell by phone. “I wanted to speak to coaches from inner-city schools to find out the situation. What I found out was not that great.”
Bell added that student-athletes from inner-city schools are not garnering the attention they deserve from Division One schools.
“It’s not a talent thing, it’s a grade thing. Most of the coaches from those schools are under control of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). We were just trying to see how we can get major schools involved with inner city schools.”
The association is also dedicated to handling matters up for debate peacefully and timely, according to their mission statement. Above all, the group seeks to foster a genuine interest in teaching, coaching, officiating and school administration for people of color, and establish a bond among coaches and players, said Johnson.
“It is important, because a lot of our kids aren’t fortunate enough,” explained Bell. “Parents not knowledgeable enough to supply them with the resources to get them to these things. Kids are not academically sound to obtain a scholarship to major colleges and universities.”
The guys are aiming to have the NCAA educate students on how to prepare student athletes for standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT exams, in addition to creating administrative job opportunities for coaches of color. The association is looking to partner with the Minority Education Association and the New Jersey Education Association as possible sponsors. A long-term goal is to create clinics and camps for student-athletes to help them gain maximum exposure for scholarship opportunities among rival teams.
“Performing at these camps and getting a scholarship is like hitting the lottery,” remarked Wimberly.
Wimberly, who is also the recreation director in Paterson and a Democratic state assemblyman in the 35th Legislative District, also coached Paterson native and former Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl champion Victor Cruz whom they are also in talks with becoming a sponsor.
“Many other coaches have reached out to lend their support,” said Bell. “I think that’s something that our kids need. We need support from everyone. We are one people; we’re not separate.”
In regards to the civil unrest that sparked in the country following Floyd’s death and the nasty coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe claiming north of 1 million lives to date, Wimberly called these horrific events, though unfortunate, a “wake-up call” to society that has led to greater social conscientiousness.
“We’ve all been impacted by the pandemic, but if we come together as one -- Covid aligns with the racial unrest in this country -- we’re all in this together,” he said.
To inquire about membership, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.