Kenton Mack

Northern Michigan University Basketball | Age 23 | @withoutkenton

My name is Kenton Mack. I am from a suburb about 45 minutes northwest of Chicago called Algonquin, IL. I graduated from Northern Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in Biology with a Business Administration minor. Looking back on my childhood, I would say I grew up extremely fortunate. I had a wonderful support system, in which I never felt the need to prove my parents wrong, but rather prove them right because they instilled such belief and confidence in me. I have the type of parents that would sacrifice their world to make sure that my brother and I had everything that we needed. From the outside looking in, it would be hard to find much wrong with my upbringing. I lived a life that many people would probably kill for. However, it was not exactly a walk in the park.

Growing up black in a white space was not ideal. Aside from not being able to relate to people, the daily microaggressions I faced and the subtle racism all around me, I went through an identity crisis. Yes, that is right, an identity crisis. This is something many black kids who grow up in white spaces experience at some point or another. You are too black for the white kids and too white for the black. You try to fit in, but you will never be one of them. They accept you for what you do, not for who you are. So how do you manage? What do you do to cope? For me, it was basketball. That was my identity. I was Kenton, the basketball player. Due to this, I was “popular” and did not feel like as much of an outcast. The only other thing that saved me was having my 3 best friends go through the same thing I experienced, because they were all black, well-known athletes in the area, growing up in a white space. What I have come to realize, as a young adult, is that neither basketball nor having my 3 boys really “saved me.” They just allowed me to shelter myself and ignore the reality that was all around me. College was a similar environment. The only blacks we really saw at my University were my teammates or the football team. Outside of that, it was a sea of white. The difference was, I was no longer Kenton, the basketball star. I was now just Kenton, the role player clawing to get on the court. Talk about a humbling experience. With basketball, the one thing I had always been able to count on to get me through tough times, not going how I had planned, I did not know where to turn. I did not know who I truly was. This would probably come as a shock to most who knew me, but it is the truth. I had to find myself. I had to find my faith. I had to Declare Independence from the person I thought I was and redefine who I was trying to become. 

Fast forward to adulting. I have been out of college for a little over a year now, working for Abbott Nutrition in Columbus, OH. About 7 weeks ago, our country witnessed the lynching of George Floyd. I would be lying if I said I was the most woke athlete all my years of college. I would be lying if I said I used my voice, my platform and my ability to vote in all elections to the best of my abilities. In some ways, George Floyd’s murder woke me up and made me realize being aware was not enough. I was always aware of the racial injustices that existed in this country because I lived them each day. I have had encounters with police officers that left me feeling more scared of the police than protected by them. I have been racially profiled. I have lived through the abuse of far too many black men and women by the police to count. I understood systemic racism. I understood privilege. I understood a lot. However, I did not do everything in my power to act on it. This changed. After watching that modern-day lynching time and time and time again, I could not help but feel helpless, defeated and saddened that my ancestors had endured so much just for this still to be the reality our generation faced. I texted 4 of my teammates and started talking about what we could do. Long story short, this is how my nonprofit Athlete Empowerment organization, Athletes Igniting Action, came about. This organization has a quite simple purpose. It is to shift people’s mindsets from being bystanders to becoming men and women of Action. We have created a platform to educate, empower and elevate. It is exceedingly rare that our environments of growth resemble our comfort zones. Therefore, we are challenging people to step outside of theirs. We must work on “me” to create a better “we.” This story is not to promote Athletes Igniting Action, though. It is to share my truth, as scatter-brained and all over the place as it is. It comes down to this for me: What do you want to be able to say to your future children when you look them in the eyes and have to tell them about who you were and what you did during this time? I know what I want to tell mine: 

“Pops was a man of his word and he was a man of action.”