‘We are human beings first’: NFL players lead conversation on social justice and activism

December 11, 2019 /

National Football League players, dreamers, foster youth, members of the LGBTQ community and others from all walks of life came together Tuesday for the Dear America: A Social Justice Conversation event at Bakersfield College to hear about becoming agents of change in their community.

The event, held on International Day of Human Rights, focused on immigration issues locally and nationally. Joining in on the conversation was Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis.

“Don’t be silent” Davis told the audience. “You can be a voice for a movement — a movement that needs to happen. We can’t be silent. We need to make a lot of noise until they hear us.”

Norman and Davis helped pay the bail of local immigrant rights activist Jose Bello after he was detained by ICE for the second time just 36 hours after reciting a poem at the Truth Act Forum in early 2019.

Bello’s poem, titled “Dear America,” focused on injustices in detainment policies, frustrations with Trump Administration policies toward immigrants and the separation of families. Norman and Davis say Bello’s detainment was unjust and a violation of his First Amendment right.

“We believe ICE targeted me,” Bello said Tuesday. “There has been a pattern. ICE has a tendency to target those who are more vocal in the community.”

Not an isolated incident

Bello’s incident is not the only one of its kind. In March of 2018, a couple in Delano was fleeing from ICE. The couple crashed their car trying to escape ICE, and both individuals died, leaving behind their children. In July, a man was detained in the Delano courthouse. Immigrant rights advocates say they fear immigrants may be discouraged from participating in the justice system, possibly threatening legal procedures, The Bakersfield Californian reported.

However, this isn’t only happening in Kern County. It’s taking place across the nation, Davis said. In Mississippi, where Davis is from, ICE conducted a raid in August and detained 680 people.

“They had me outraged,” Davis said.

Davis said he thought to himself, “‘Wait a minute, where are we? This is not the United States of America.’ We have to do something to draw awareness to people who are getting profiled.”

Shortly after the raid, Norman and Davis, in partnership with The New York Immigrant Freedom Fund, and The National Bail Fund Network, paid Bello’s bail.

“What a great person to get behind to draw national attention to his situation and also to an issue that is plaguing an entire community,” Davis said.

How to become agents of change

Bello, who helped organize the event, said engagement is one of the best ways to bring about change for social justice issues.

“We can all be activists,” Bello said. “Everybody gets tired. Our community has had enough.”

Norman spoke of how everyone has a purpose in life, and people should use their purpose for good.

“We all gathered here today because this is (Jose’s) purpose — to give a voice to the voiceless,” Norman said. “To change this generation, to change the way people look at him and his people.”

Davis said three principles can help bring about change for social justice issues: selflessness over selfishness; empathy over sympathy; and equity over equality.

“If all of us apply those principles, we could live a lot better lives,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of having compassion.

“We play football for a living, but that’s not who we are,” Davis said of himself and Norman. “We are human beings first. We have compassion, speaking out on issues when people are being wronged. It’s important to us.”

The event also included a conversation between members of the LGBTQ community, Dreamers, formerly incarcerated students and foster youth as a way to show the community can work together to bring about change to all social justice issues.

The panel listed a few key components to finding common ground on the many social justice issues. These components include being an active listener, letting go of one’s pride and allowing for time to heal.

“We all have a story,” Davis said. “Use it to help someone else. By doing that, you create change.”

Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at elizabeth@southkernsol.org.