I am from inner-city Los Angeles, California, a former football player for the University of Texas, and currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Educational Policy and Planning.
Although I played college football for what many would consider one of the most historical and lucrative brands in the entire history of college football, I realized that just being present but not being present in the lives of those that need you the most is unacceptable. Garnering the attention of thousands of people screaming your name, or in my case my case 100,000 people solely because of what you can produce through athletics means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. Instead of being relevant for 4 years while I was an athlete, I decided that I’d rather be relevant for the next 40 years of my life because activism and the impact I made off of the football field was far more sustainable. Hence, very early on in my career I’ve realized that there is no utility in basking in my own success on the football field, if I am not leveraging my platform in a way that is both conducive and empowering to the constituents that need me the most; inner city youth.
I’m the founder and president of UT SPARK (Strong Players Are Reaching Kids), an organized initiative I have been leading for the past 3 years, at the University of Texas. Today, I now use my powerful platform of both being a UT College of Education student and football alumni to inspire youth of color, just as the sport of football once inspired me. I lead a group of UT athletes and various college students from UT to give inspirational speeches to inner city schools and youth who come from humble beginnings similar to myself. Today we have given inspirational speeches to over 10,000 youth in over 40 inner-city schools in Texas. Collectively, UT SPARK believes in pouring hope into the hopeless, breathing life into dying situations, and delivering a narrative so personal that it reveals how we have turned various tests into testimonies. While being a football player, I was awarded the Dorothy L. Smith Marbridge Foundation Community Service Award and the 2018 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team Award. The former is a national award that only honors 11 D1 football players amongst the entire United States for their exemplary community service. I also became the first student-athletes in the history of UT to study abroad at the number one university in the entire continent of Africa – The University of Cape Town in South Africa. That is where I found that I am not just called to serve domestically but globally. Since then, not only have I delivered inspirational speeches to the inner-city youth in South Africa, I helped construct a multi-use sports court with other student-athletes in Panama, and I helped paint a mural at a Boys and Girls Club in Belize.
I do not struggle in speaking up in opportunities when I am called to speak. I understand that many who come from humble beginnings like myself do not have access to the number of resources and education that I do have, so I use every opportunity available to honor the sacrifices my ancestors have made by speaking truth to power. For example, I testified in front of the Texas State Board of Education in November, where I advocated on behalf of adding comprehensive African American studies to the K-12 curriculum in the entire state of Texas. After posting the experience online, the video went viral. I believe it speaks towards my efficacy in speaking truth to power. The most profound aspect that I believe helped the video gain so much traction was the mere factor that my passion did not match my appearance. I am a black male with dreadlocks who grew up around Compton critically speaking about dismantling systems and circumventing the matrices of power. What made the experience even more dynamic was when I mentioned that I played college football for the Texas Longhorns. After that exchange, I believe that I sucked the air out of the room because it deconstructed every preconceived notion that society expects a black college athlete to be; I was articulate, empowering, and stood strong on my beliefs and convictions. This singular example simply emphasizes just how powerful we are as student athletes; therefore, we have a responsibility to utilize our platform in ways that empowers others while simeotaneously honoring the sacrifices our ancestors have made to place us in the position we are in today.
I now am completely convinced that my positionality is empowering since I had the opportunity to touch millions of people. I was extremely surprised because I didn’t intend to post the video in the first place. I was debating whether or not people would perceive me advocating for African American studies was important, but everyone’s response indicates that these issues are very important, so since the very first week of January, I post a video about Educational Policy on all major Social Media platforms every single week for the next year to see what happens. I have an unrelenting conviction to see change, so I now fully use my platform to discuss pertinent educational issues. I want to see if my videos can help legislation like the African American studies curriculum can pass in other states, who it inspires, who can learn from what I’m learning, and any other positive externalities. My videos will highlight Personal Stories, Interview Educational Policy Experts, Educational Policy issues, Current Educational Policy Wins and losses, and also pertinent issues that speak of the Black experience in America.
Complementing my convictions and commitments to see educational policy change with my connections makes for a very bright future. I am currently a Graduate Assistant with the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence under the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. I work directly with Dr. Ryan Sutton in the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males and am a Teacher’s Assistant in the Race in the Age of Trump class with Dr. Leonard Moore. With this leadership position, I am responsible for helping increase the representation of Black males within each stage of the educational pipeline and assisting first-generation students in adjusting to higher education. I am fully convinced that my desire to ameliorate educational inequities for inner-city youth does not have to begin 10 years from now, it begins now. We always hear the phrase of being the change that we want to see, well I take heed to these words and refuse to never hold back again.
I currently hold a 4.0 GPA, helped African American Studies Legislation get passed in Texas, taught two undergraduate classes, and won the prestigious Graduate Archer Fellowship that will allow me to work with policymakers in Washington D.C. As I reflect on everything that I have done off the football field, I hope this can operate as a testimony of what can happen when one is fully aware of the gifts they have beyond athletics. To anyone that may be reading this, always remember the question that helped me direct my activism, “Chase, do you want to be relevant only for 4 years because you are an athlete or relevant for the next 40 because of your activism?” I do not know what the future holds, but I can assure readers reading and listeners listening that I will leverage whatever platform god gives me to empower my people, whether I am flipping burgers for McDonalds, being a Trash Truck Driver, Delivering Pizza at Dominos, or being a policymaker to make it more possible for kids who grew up from tough circumstances to achieve their dreams. Use your platform, or else it will use you.