April 1, 2016
WASHINGTON - Sometimes, a little bit of trouble can lead to a lot of good. That was definitely the case for Georgetown football senior Darius Baxter (Accokeek, Md./Bishop McNamara).
Like most college students, he got mischievous one night and was written up by his resident assistant. Forced to complete work sanction hours on campus, rather than be given a task like filing or cleaning something, Assistant Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Leadership and Development Dr. Mike Lorenzen challenged him to develop a video describing what it's like to come into a different environment in your life. Like coming from a lower-to-middle class background and then becoming a student at a prestigious university.
It's something Baxter -- and several of his football teammates -- had dealt with for most of the past four years.
Fast forward a year and Baxter and three of his Georgetown football teammates -- Troye Bullock (Suitland, Md./DeMatha), Daniel Wright (Washington, D.C./St. Johns College HS) and former player Marcus Hughes - were hosting an interactive night for nearly 600 student-athletes dubbed "UCanBU," a cultural competence and leadership event sponsored by the Cooper Athletics Leadership Program (CALP).
"Instead of telling me to pick up trash or do something that wouldn't have any meaning, he gave me the task to show incoming freshmen how to express what it's like to come to Georgetown from a different environment," Baxter said. "I'm from a low-income background, so he tasked with me showing how we adjust. It started with the idea of unconscious bias. A lot of good came about it."
Although the video that Baxter created, along with former football player Nick Alfieri (C'15), helped to spark the idea for the "UCanBU" event, held last weekend at Gaston Hall, it was the collaboration with Bullock, Wright and Hughes, as well as student-athlete volunteers like men's lacrosse sophomore Matt Behrens (Bronxville, N.Y./Bronxville) and track & field athletes Jody-Anne Knight (Bentonville, Ark./Bentonville) and Sabrina Southerland (New York, N.Y./Cardozo), who helped the event go off without a hitch. Moderated by Associate Professor of Law Jamillah Bowman Williams, JD, PhD, the night included four speakers who talked on topics including race, gender, class and sexuality.
"UCanBU," part of the leadership tools program that is a component of CALP, helps to engage student-athletes in educational conversations with student-athletes on issues relevant to their lives from a sociocultural perspective. One is held each semester and Lorenzen encouraged him and other student-athletes to develop an event based on cultural competence for the Spring 2016 UCanBU program.
"At the end of the day, that's what it really comes down to," Baxter said. "The whole idea for our program was accepting people for their different cultures, their different races, gender, class and sexuality. At the end of the day, you can be exactly who you are and it's not up to you to conform to other people but for people to accept you for who are you are. In that sense, you can be you. You can be you, no matter who you are."
Speakers for the UCanBU event included Aaron Maybin, a former Penn State All-American football player who was a first round draft pick in the NFL; Akil Patterson, a two-time Division II All-American wrestler at the California University of Pennsylvania; Katherine Bradley, the president of CityBridge Foundation, a group that finds, incubates and invests in the most promising practices in public education, looking to assemble the critical mass of transformative schools--traditional public and charter--needed for the success of all children; and Jimmy Lynn, the managing partner of JLynn Associates, a global strategic firm focused on sports-related media, marketing, and retail for a diverse set of clients including teams, athletes, leagues and associations, media outlets and other businesses.
Each of the talks lasted about 15 minutes apiece before the student-athletes were broken into smaller groups for discussion.
"The feedback that we got back from the student-athletes was very good," Baxter said. "All of the small group moderators said everyone was engaged and there was a greater idea of how we need to be more understanding of people's differences and that it is something we need to embrace as a community."
While Baxter didn't anticipate his project would develop into the UCanBU event, it helped propel him and three of his Georgetown football teammates -- Bullock, Wright and Hughes -- to start a program called GOODPartners three months ago. GOODPartners aims to create pathways of opportunity for people so they can enjoy the benefits of America and use their stories of struggle and transcendence shine a light on what it takes to become a success story.
"We understand that in order to help those communities like the ones we come from, we have to train the next generation of young leaders in America," Baxter said. "The opportunity we had (with the UCanBU event) was to train 700 up-and-coming leaders who will have a lot of influence, not just in the Washington, D.C. area, but nationally. We think that the program we created can help to shape their minds and they can go out to their communities and do the work we're trying to do."
It's been a bit of a whirlwind for Baxter over the last year. He never thought having to complete work sanction hours would result in the creation of a program that he and his friends could use to help benefit the community, but it has become a driving force for him.
"We have to prepare the next generation of leaders because we can't do it by ourselves," Baxter said. "Our motto is that we're building an army, an army of leaders. Our mission is to go out of business. When there's no more work that needs to be done, then that means we've done our job well. But right now, there's still a lot of work to be done."