Utah Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell became one of the NBA’s prominent young voices on social issues during the league’s COVID-19-related hiatus and subsequent restart.
His status in that arena took another step forward as he was selected to be one of three NBA players (along with the Blazers’ CJ McCollum and the Sixers’ Tobias Harris) to score a sit-down interview with Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris.
In the video, which was released Tuesday, the quartet were seated (socially distanced and wearing masks) in what appeared to be an airplane hangar, and proceeded to discuss myriad issues they believe to be of importance to the Black community in the coming election, and why casting a vote is of particular import this time.
Mitchell kicked off the roundtable, dubbed “Kamala Harris, CJ McCollum, Donovan Mitchell, and Tobias Harris: The Power of Voting,” by discussing his aims in more prominently speaking out this year, from both inside and outside the NBA bubble.
“No voice is too little, and I think the great thing about the league is we were making a huge push to go out and vote, focusing on education, finding ways to at least inform and give back to the community,” Mitchell said. “My mom being a teacher, she’s instilled that in me. But that was really one of the biggest things for me coming into the bubble — the play was going to take care of itself, but I wanted to be able to give back that knowledge. That’s really what carries and goes a long way.”
The senator from California followed up on that thought by spelling out the specific issues she believes are important for Black people to consider heading into the election, namely how the ability to pick candidates of a specific ideological viewpoint for the Supreme Court in coming years will impact various civil-rights fights — including battling voter-suppression laws on the books.
“In 2013, the United States Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Right after they got rid of these protections, all these states ended up putting in place laws that were designed to prevent Black folks from voting,” Kamala Harris said. “… Why do you think so many powerful people are trying to make it so difficult for us to vote? And you know what the answer is: 'Cuz they know when we vote, things change. Don’t let anybody take your power.”
Subsequent conversations turned to the unrest that took place across the country in the aftermath of the police-caused deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., with it noted that there was particular dismay among Black people about the decision not to file any charges against officers specifically related to Taylor’s death.
Kamala Harris first noted that she doesn’t know a single Black man who hasn’t had a suspect interaction with police — something Mitchell has previously addressed. She then argued that such problems would never go away unless the country’s leadership was first willing to concede that the United States has an issue with systemic racism. From there, she added that she and presidential candidate Joe Biden were advocating for a national ban on police using chokeholds and carotid holds, as well as a “national registry of cops who break the law,” so that officers terminated from one locale for bad behavior can’t simply get hired elsewhere and repeat their actions.
When the time came for Mitchell to invoke an issue that is personally important to him, he focused on education equality, noting that as someone who had attended both public and private schools, he was all too familiar with their inequities.
“There are some friends I went to private school with who have no idea what’s happening 45 minutes away in the projects, in certain areas. No idea how certain people live. And vice versa,” Mitchell began. “… I’m 24, and there are people way older than me who don’t even know what Juneteenth is. Or Black Wall Street. And I’m informing them. I always wonder, if we want to get to the ultimate goal of equality — whether it’s through education or systemic racism or voter suppression, whatever it is — the best thing we can do is inform. There’s no way a kid in the Bronx shouldn’t receive the same education — because of where he goes to school — as a kid in Connecticut. So, what is the Biden/Harris plan to help that?”
Kamala Harris praised Mitchell for his question, telling him, “You have raised what I think is one of the most important issues that we need to address immediately.”
And part of the answer, she went on to say, was in bringing out not just educational equality but educational equity, which is to say, not merely giving the same exact resources to everyone involved, which will result in those who begin with an advantage simply maintaining it, but rather devoting more resources to where they are most needed, so that everyone winds up in the same educational opportunities in the end.
“We fund public schools based on the tax base of that community. Well, that’s completely upside down. That doesn’t make any sense. Because the schools that are getting the lowest amount of funding are in the communities that have the highest need,” she said. “So part of what we’re gonna do is called Title I funding — basically, the funding that goes to low-income schools, we’re gonna triple it.”
The candidate added that it ultimately comes down to “investing in the health of America” by taking funds that fight the symptoms plaguing poor communities and reallocating them to address the root causes.
“You go to any upper-middle class suburb in America, you will not see the kind of police presence that you’ll see in other communities; but what you will see: well-funded public schools, high rates of home ownership, access to capital for small businesses, affordable health care and affordable mental health care,” Kamala Harris said. “Healthy communities are safe communities.”