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February 6, 2018

Appreciating The Past While Moving Forward

BY COURTNEY LEE

As the Knicks recognize Black History Month throughout February, and with a special celebration coming up Tuesday night, the Knicks guard describes its meaning to him.

(Photo: Dave Saffran/MSG Photos)

Of all the life lessons I carry with me, perhaps the most significant is this — that hate is not something natural, that it is a taught emotion. My mother raised me with this idea. We were taught not to pay attention to differences, to treat everyone with respect, and if others did not act in kind, that was their problem.

This is what Martin Luther King had in mind when he dreamed of a day when people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” As the Knicks celebrate Black History Month — and with the team holding a Black History Celebration for our game tonight  I am still guided by this hope.

I grew up in the Mayfield Green housing project in Indianapolis. The community  nearly all African American  struggled with crime and all sorts of day-to-day problems, often without air conditioning or heat. For some, the hardships were a motivation, but others got stuck. They got used to the norm of that environment and they thought this was the norm for them. They walked around thinking that there was a ceiling they could not get beyond.

We struggled, too. When I was 12, my mother, my two older brothers and I lived in a tiny 2-bedroom apartment. As a single mom, my mother worked hard as a financial adviser for a hospital.

 

Teammates Absorb The Lessons Of History

In my home, there was always a sense of possibility, that we could lift ourselves. We certainly understood the difficulties our grandparents and great-grandparents had endured as black people, but these lessons did not limit us. Instead, through my mother’s wisdom, we tried to imagine something better.

On the Knicks’ recent trip to Memphis, the whole team visited the National Civil Rights Museum. I played two seasons in Memphis, and this was the fifth time I had been to the museum. Still, it was moving in new ways, for all of us. Our team has a number of foreign-born players, and seeing their reactions was priceless. They were absorbing the realities of how this country was built and the sacrifices so many people made for us to live in equality.

As professional athletes, we enjoy the benefits. Wherever I go, I am treated as someone special, but that’s superficial. It is important to recognize each one of us as special. That’s truly how we honor the past while pushing toward a new day.


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