by, Alexa Schmidt, Senior Writer
The Time Out for Black Lives initiative was spearheaded by the MAAC Conference last summer to call for inclusion of all players and coaches. It’s purpose serves to support black culture and representation in a fun way as children’s books are read aloud in a fun and engaging way.
In addition to sharing diverse literature, the Time Out for Black Live website is an interactive website for kids. According to the GoJaspers website, “Posted videos will feature short biographies on each coach or student-athlete, with kid-friendly information such as the reader’s hometown, favorite book and favorite basketball player. There is also a “Let’s Talk About It” resource that guides to help parents and teachers start thought-provoking discussions with the children viewing the videos.”
At Manhattan College, head women’s basketball coach, Heather Vulin, and junior point guard Samir Stewart of the men’s basketball team both had the opportunity to participate in this program.
Coach Vulin narrated “Vote for Our Future,” written by author Margaret McNamara in 2020 right before the presidential election. Coach Vulin was given the option to choose from two books, but thought “Vote for Our Future” would be a great way to draw attention to the importance of voting.
“I like the fact that it points out that not everybody had the right to vote and that especially for women and people of color, like it just literally happened within the last hundred years,” Vulin said. “So I really like the fact that it talked about that because I feel, especially now with everything going on in our country, it’s so important for people to take an active part of what happens in our country. And the quickest thing to make change is to vote, put people in power that are going to represent you.”
This past fall, the MAAC and the Student Athlete Advisory Committee dedicated themselves to ensuring that all teams and staff within the athletic department registered to vote, and they succeeded with 100 percent registration. The NCAA also made it mandatory that teams had the day off on Election Day to give student athletes and coaches an opportunity to go vote.
Samir Stewart read “Over-ground Railroad” by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Although initially nervous to read out loud, his love of kids and the cause allowed him to feel comfortable and enjoy the activity.
“It was my first time actually, you know, reading out loud and being comfortable with it, being on camera and the fact that it was, you know, it’s going to be heard by kids and maybe they could be inspired by my voice,” Stewart said. “I actually enjoyed the whole process.”
To Stewart, being a Black athlete is extremely important, and he is proud that he gets the chance to play for a Division I school and represent the college. However, with that opportunity comes responsibility.
“You never know who’s watching,” Stewart said. “You never know who’s looking out, who’s attending the games or you know, who is watching on TV or watching the program. So always conduct yourself as a professional, always go out there, put a smile on your face. It’s about respect at the end of the day.”
In Stewart’s view, the MAAC has done a great job in bringing issues to light and making sure the cause is still being recognized.
“In playing at different arenas at different games, you still see maybe it’s a banner, or something on the court or just the patch, like anything like Black Lives Matter,” Stewart said. “It’s being shown around not only the MAAC but in different conferences.”
Coach Vulin can echo Stewart’s statements. She acknowledges that it’s hard not to talk about what’s going on in the world when she coaches her players. It amounts to more than just basketball. In addition to hosting the Black Lives Matter Vigil in the beginning of the fall semester, the women’s basketball team has shooting shirts that were actually designed by Manhattan students.
“They’re beautiful,” Coach Vulin said. “We have Black Lives Matter on the court. We have the MAAC initiatives United for Justice. So I feel like, you know, we’re trying to make sure that when people watch us play, they also are being reminded that the fight is not over yet.”
The women’s basketball program believes in empowering women. Vulin has an all-female staff and tries to do mentoring programs with her players at least once a month.
“Because of COVID, we do Zoom calls to help give [players] mentors that they can maybe use down the road in terms of trying to find an internship, but also just to hear their stories and find out what did they do to overcome the obstacles that they’re going to face as women in the business world or whatever profession that they’ve chosen.”
“Empowering has been part of what we’re about since I started the program,” Vulin said. “We need to do more in terms of empowering black women, because I feel they definitely have it harder than most everybody in terms of representation. We’ve got just a really talented group on the court off the court. I feel like every one of my players is in the top honor society of their major. They take active roles in terms of volunteer work and being on different committees on campus. So the future’s looking bright and they definitely have embraced the empowerment and are trying to use their voice and their platform.”