More than 400 viewers gathered virtually Tuesday night to celebrate the culmination of the school year and the academic and athletic achievements of Scholar Athletes members at the non-profit organization's 2020 gala.
The annual event serves as Scholar Athletes' largest fundraiser as it partners with under-resourced Massachusetts communities and aims to build equity, close opportunity gaps, and leverage the power of sports to cultivate skills needed for success both in and outside of the classroom.
Though this year's gala, like most recent events, was forced to be held virtually, attendees still heard from students, known within Scholar Athletes as Zone Members, as they shared various success stories and inspiring testimonies from their involvement with the organization. But perhaps one of the most exciting surprises of the night came when a group of Zone Members had the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session with Patriots running back James White.
White offered advice and perspective as students asked various questions regarding social justice, overcoming personal challenges and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically.
When asked about his thoughts and reactions to issues of social injustice, racial oppression and the fight for civil rights as a Black athlete in the National Football League, White stressed the importance of standing up, and speaking out.
"I think it's very important, especially being a Black athlete, to speak out on social injustices and things that are going on," White said. "I think it's important that people hear our voices no matter how much money you make, no matter what occupation you do, some people are going to see you as just a Black man in America. It's important to speak out and let people know that Black people have been oppressed for a long time and there are laws that need to be changed, there are people's minds that need to be changed. I think it's important for everybody to voice their feelings and listen to one another – it's the only way things are going to get better."
White went on to share a story of perseverance from his time in college as a member of the University of Wisconsin football team. After earning Big 10 Freshman of the Year honors in 2010, he found himself competing for a starting job as a sophomore. White turned to his parents for advice at the time, and nearly 10 years later, shared that same sentiment with Zone Members.
"My dad and my mom, they kept me motivated and said, 'Your time's coming and when you get your opportunity you have to make the most of it. It's just your time isn't right now,'" White said. "I just had to stay the course, stay grinding, stay focused and that next year it got better for me…You've just got to stay the course. It's not always going to be your turn immediately – you've just got to stay patient sometimes."
The money raised at last night's gala will help continue to support Scholar Athletes programming in local, under-resourced communities and school districts. To stream the full event on-demand or to make a donation, you can visit: https://www.sa2020.live/stream.