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Knowlton’s Notes: Black Lives Matter

AD Jim Knowlton addressed the BLM movement and social injustices in his most recent letter

NCAA Football: North Carolina at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Athletics Director Jim Knowlton penned his most recent June newsletter to the Cal Athletics family. He touches on a variety of subjects including what to expect from 2020-21 but mainly focuses on the issues at hand: Black Lives Matter and the social injustices that have come to light since the senseless killing of George Floyd among so many others.

Knowlton’s Notes from the Cal Athletics site:

Dear Friend of Cal Athletics,

As we head into the summer months, a normal message to our supporters would summarize all we have achieved over the past year and provide an outlook for the fall and what we can expect in 2020-21. But these are not normal times.

While we have accomplished a lot – record Academic Progress Rate scores, launching the Cameron Institute, releasing our strategic plan and bringing the Axe back to Berkeley, to name a few – I want to share my thoughts on George Floyd’s killing and what actions we, as an athletic department, are taking.

I have been thinking a lot about what has been going on in our nation. I think it’s horrific, but if we’re not taking notice of where we are right now as a country, we are in deep, deep trouble. The protests we are seeing around the country are understandable and expected. I fully support the right of our citizens to exercise free speech in a peaceful manner, and I am so proud of what I have seen from members of our Cal community – having tough discussions, taking part in marches, issuing statements of support, and helping raise money and awareness of this important issue. I encourage you to read or our team social media pages to see and hear some of what our student-athletes and coaches are doing and saying.

I’ve reached out to my Black friends, colleagues, members of our staff and student-athletes, and what I’ve been hearing is sadness, fear and overwhelming emotions. It’s heartbreaking to me. “I can’t breathe” keeps coming back into my head. I can’t block it out.

I have no idea what our Black community is going through, no idea what it’s like to be Black living in America. I can’t pretend to understand the challenges that racism poses in their lives each and every day, but I know their experience is not the same as mine.

As I think about where we are today, I really believe that we have to think about what we all can do with our platforms. I hear the stories from my friends and people on our staff of being hassled in their own neighborhoods or about how they feel when they’re the only Black person walking into Safeway and everyone’s eyes are on them. I hear their fears for their sons and daughters and how they are wondering what is in store for their children. I can’t and don’t know how it feels, but I do know it’s real.

What I’m seeing now – racism, divisiveness, hatred – must be addressed and tackled. If not, I’m afraid for all of us. Every one of us. I’m really afraid for our children. I really believe we’re at an inflection point, and if we don’t learn to be civilized, if we don’t learn to treat all on this Earth with respect and welcome them, the next step could be catastrophic. “I can’t breathe” keeps ringing in my head.

For me, sports have been an incredible part of my life. I love to compete; I love to work as part of a team; I love to work for something bigger than myself; and I love the feeling when everyone works together on a court or on a field. You can make adjustments, correct mistakes and tell a teammate how to execute better. No one takes it personally. There’s no judgment. Everyone wants to get better, and it’s awesome. We need to start doing that today. We have to be better. We have to treat people of color better, and we have to treat them with respect and with dignity. We have to take a leadership role, and we have to be a place where we can do that together.

How do we embrace diversity and inclusion? That’s the question. What can we do? How can we each get better? Our Black community is hurting. They’re exhausted, beaten down and traumatized, and we must be part of the solution. So, this is a call to action, something we should have heeded a long time ago.

We need to continue our efforts of diversifying our Cal Athletics team – it makes us a stronger organization in every way. We have some great initiatives in our strategic plan – including two principles for department culture, and diversity, equity and inclusion – and because of what I’ve seen, we’re going to go back and revisit the strategic plan and see if we can be more aspirational in what we do.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have held difficult and important conversations about the work that we as a department need to do to better support our Black student-athletes, coaches and staff. We organized a healing circle for our Black student-athletes led by trained clinicians at University Health Services. Eugene Whitlock, the assistant vice chancellor for human resources, joined our all-staff meeting, which was entirely dedicated to creating space for our staff to talk about how they are feeling and what we can do to support them individually and collectively. We also held a listening session for our Black coaches and staff to hear about their experiences and get feedback on how we can improve our diversity and inclusion work.

A critical step to ensuring fair and equal treatment for everyone in our department is to recognize our own biases. We must work to understand how our attitudes, stereotypes and biases form as a part of everyday life. So by the middle of next month, I have directed all of our staff to take implicit bias training offered through the Berkeley People Management series for campus employees. As I’m sure many of you know, today is Juneteenth, which recognizes the date in 1865 when news finally reached Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and that slaves were now free. This is an important day of reflection for all of us, and our campus has declared it as a day of remembrance. We have to redouble our efforts to make this country, this state, this athletic department and our university better. I want to see us work together and be part of the solution. I appreciate our team; I think it’s a great team that is committed to positive change for our department. Making our organization more welcoming and diverse has to be a critical part of what we do moving forward. Go Bears,