By: Erin Papakostas ’23, Staff Writer
“We made it one of our goals this year: not only are we competing for football and championships, but we’re competing for social change and becoming the change that we want to see,” said Jalen Jefferson ‘22, one of the football team’s six captains.
During the summer of 2020, the Davidson College football team worked tirelessly to create the Progress, Advocate, Cooperate, and Educate (PACE) initiative to reflect the team’s commitment to fighting for racial equity.
“We don’t want to just put something on social media. We want to do something more. We started to talk about different options and really tried to think about how we could impact our campus and try to be a symbol on our campus for equality,” commented team captain Tyler Phelps ‘21.
In response to the country’s uproar after George Floyd’s murder, Nick Baker ‘22 said the football team wanted to do more than issue a statement. “We all hope that the world will come to a place where we won’t need this initiative, but for as long as we will need it, it’ll be here and it’ll be a part of the football team.” Baker serves on the team’s Unity Council.
This past summer, Head Coach Abell organized an all-team Zoom meeting to create a safe space for players to share their reactions to George Floyd’s murder. “We met as a football team to have open dialogue about how [social injustice] affect[s] each and every one of our players and then our team,” Abell said.
The team marched together at the Black Lives Matter protest in the Town of Davidson on June 6th.
Since founding PACE, the players have bonded and opened up to one another like never before. “[PACE] brought us closer together for reasons outside of football and for reasons bigger than football. It’s led us to have really emotional conversations that we have never had on these issues before,” Jefferson said.
The program also helped introduce first-year players to the team’s culture. Team captain Cade Vela ‘22 remarked that new and returning members have dedicated themselves to furthering the PACE initiative.
The team organized a leadership committee within PACE called the Unity Council. The Unity Council consists of coaches, the six captains, and six other players voted on by the captains. Vela stated, “We compiled a unit of players to come together who are leaders in the Davidson community as well as the school community.”
Phelps added, “[The Unity Council] is really the nucleus of the PACE initiative, and then we go to the broader team and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this event out in Chambers like we did a couple weeks ago,’ or ‘We are currently working on a fundraiser.’”
The Unity Council also researches ways for the team to extend its impact beyond Davidson’s campus and contribute philanthropically to organizations that align with the PACE mission.
On Friday, August 28th, the football team organized a socially-distant rally to announce its plans for PACE. “The event on Friday was a social justice initiative that we have been wanting to do, and after the Jacob Blake shooting, it became imperative — we need to do it now,” Jefferson commented.
The team was creative in juggling COVID restrictions and their unwavering resolve in the PACE message. “We wanted the campus to know that we’re here to support unity for everyone,” Abell said. ”We hope that we can get people behind this.”
At the rally, the team announced PACE to Davidson’s campus and demonstrated their unity as a team to fight racism together. “We want to make sure that we’re using our voice and we’re using it in the correct way,” Baker said. “We want to make sure that we’re all able to work together, that we’re all on the same page in order to have these difficult conversations.”
Speakers included one of the team’s captains Wesley Dugger, Head Coach Scott Abell, and Officer Melvin Snipes from Campus Police. “We felt it was important to have a law enforcement official representative there […] to tell his story about why he became a police officer,” Eli Turner ‘22, a team captain, said. “We’re trying to unify, we’re not trying to divide.”
The demonstration on August 28th was just the beginning for PACE. ChiChi Odo ‘22, another of the team’s captains, said, “This isn’t a one-time thing; this is a shift in culture.”
PACE charges all team members with a call to action. “PACE isn’t a group compiled of 10 or 20 kids. It is all 100 plus, it is our students, it is our coaching staff, it is our trainers, it is our equipment staff, it is everyone involved 110 percent. Everyone has a voice, everyone has a role, and even though it may not have a label to it, everyone is there,” Vela said.
Describing the future of the initiative, Jefferson stated, “We have some fundraising things planned. We have charity organizations that we’re going to be giving money toward [and that] we’re going to be giving our time towards. With COVID-19 and everything, that makes things a little harder for us, but it doesn’t stop us.” The team plans to sell bracelets, masks, or t-shirts to raise donations for charity organizations.
To Baker, PACE also has a role to play in educating and raising awareness in the community about racism. He remarked, “We want to make sure that we’re constantly working to get better, constantly working to educate the community on issues of racism and social injustice.”
Baker volunteered with the Ada Jenkins Center this past summer and is currently working to get the team connected with the Center. “If we can connect with [the Ada Jenkins Center] and invest in them and help them in any way that we can, I feel like that would be a great, beneficial part of our partnership, and also show that you’re putting action behind your words,” Baker said.
With PACE, the team aims to form meaningful connections within the community and hopes to leave a legacy of tangible action towards racial justice.
Phelps remarked, “We know that Davidson Football’s Unity Council won’t be able to change the world but if we can change our world that we live in, we’ll be creating a better world.”