SACRAMENTO -- Dropping the Golden 1 Center in the heart of Downtown Sacramento’s core was designed to revitalize a city in need of a boost. But it can’t just be about restaurants, nightlife and a shiny new arena. It has to be inclusive and a place where all of the greater Sacramento area feels welcome and safe.
On the eve of one of the most contentious presidential election in recent history, members of the Sacramento Kings spent Monday evening trying to build relationships in their own community when they hosted a town hall meeting featuring 150 local youth and members of law enforcement at a local church.
“We opened up a meeting with the young students and the players set the tone,” NBA security representative and retired lieutenant Sacramento Sheriff Dwight Pruitt said. “It was to have dialogue with the community and talk about some of the recent issues that have been active in the media.”
DeMarcus Cousins, Matt Barnes, Rudy Gay and Garrett Temple are attempting to use their celebrity status to help break down racial divides between minorities and those taxed with protecting them.
Similar in their choice to stand arm-in-arm during the national anthem, the Kings players are looking for solutions to bring people together, not furthering the growing frustration in our society.
“The players had a desire to do something positive in this community to try and bridge the gap,” deputy chief of police, Ken Bernard said. “We began a conversation a few weeks ago and this is where we’re at. It couldn’t have gone better. It was a tough conversation, but the important thing was the kids or the youth saw people they respect on the same stage with law enforcement asking heart-felt questions and us hopefully providing heart-felt and honest answers.”
While the media wasn’t allowed in to see the forum, the word coming out of the meeting was that is wasn’t all smiles and high-fives. It was a learning experience for everyone involved. Students asked tough questions about specific cases around the country where people were killed by police. The discussion was emotional and by all accounts eye opening.
“Just as we fear them, they fear us,” Barnes said of law enforcement. “They don’t know what they’re going to get into when they pull us over in a car. There’s fear on both sides and it circles back to the lack of knowledge and lack of understanding. So we need to be able to open up the dialogue and be able to communicate and hopefully slow this problem down.”
The emotion was palpable when speaking to both the officers and the players. Understanding both sides of the takes dialogue. The word ‘fear’ continued to come up from both sides tried to express their experience.
“I learned there’s fear in the community still,” Bernard said. “I think it’s in certain areas more than others and we have a lot of work as a profession to break down those barriers. But I also learned it’s going to take us pushing in, but also those communities pulling us in to build those relationships.”
The plan moving forward is to continue this type of outreach with players and law enforcement holding more town hall type meetings and possibly even going into communities together for events to build stronger bonds with the citizens of Sacramento.
“I think this is something that can really promote change,” Gay said.
“It’s very important to start a dialogue,” Temple added. “The protests are all fine, and good actually - very good. But, there needs to be action.”
The impetus behind this meeting came from Cousins’ stint with Team USA where he watched the power that this type of conversation could have through one of his teammates.
“I saw the panel Carmelo Anthony put together and we were in Compton, California,” Cousins said. “Just listening to the kids and listening to the community, it touched me. I understood and I wanted to bring it back where I’m from and the city I live in as well.”
Cousins held a similar meeting in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama over the offseason. While plenty of professional athletes have turned to silent protests, Cousins has found a voice as an active advocate of change.
The Kings’ two-time All-Star center has been a fixture in the Sacramento community since he was drafted by the team in 2010. While Cousins’ demeanor on the court has been question throughout his career, he has done incredible work off the floor, including free basketball clinics and eye exams to underprivileged youth, donations to local high schools and even paying for the funeral of a fallen high school football player.
He is as visible as any Kings player, regularly frequenting high school sporting events around the area. And he plays Santa Cuz every Christmas season, buying gifts for local families.
While he never seeks credit for his work in the community, Cousins has impacted the lives of plenty of youth in the Sacramento area.
“It’s starting here and like DeMarcus said, this is not the end, this is just the beginning,” Temple said. “But it’s very important for us to use our platform to create the change that we all want to see.”
The meeting concluded with the youth swarming the players to take pictures or just give them hugs. The police had hot dogs cooking on a grill outside and the overall feeling was that a small step was taken in a long road to break down racial tensions between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to serve.
“I think it was a beautiful thing, I think it was a positive thing, I think it was steps in the right direction,” said Cousins.