Howard University men’s basketball team has goals beyond winning games – making a difference.
The team will go against Morehouse College on Monday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. in Burr Gymnasium, and the game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports1.
But this is not about a matchup on the hardwood between two celebrated historically black colleges and universities. It is much more. This is the fifth year of the event, which honors the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the previous matches, Howard has played Yale, Harvard (twice) and Notre Dame. Yale and Harvard are Ivy League universities and Notre Dame is a Power 5 team from the ACC.
The sporting event has evolved and this year has added value with Morehouse being King’s alma mater.
Outside of the game, Howard men’s basketball Head Coach Kenny Blakeney is looking to develop strong, well-rounded men.
“When we recruit players to Howard, we aren’t just recruiting them to represent Howard on the basketball court, but we are recruiting young men who will live up to the standard of excellence this University has set for itself,” says Head Coach Kenny Blakeney, in his fourth season as head coach.
“If our players leave Howard without having made an impact on the world outside of Georgia Avenue, then I have failed as our head coach.”
Blakeney issued a challenge for the team: “come up with a social justice project that would honor the legacy of activism at our university.”
“The challenge was intentionally broad, as I wanted our players to truly take ownership of the issue they wanted to focus on,” the head coach said.
After intense team-wide discussions, the players settled on the issue of Black maternal health and the implications of the Roe v Wade reversal on Black women, one of the most fraught issues in American society today.
“The team chose to organize around Black maternal health as its social justice project this season due to the amount of attention in the past year given to these issues, like the overturning of Roe v Wade”, explained Team Captain Jelani Williams.
“Being at an HBCU, we also know that Black people, especially Black women, are generally more impacted by issues in American society than other groups. As a team with Black mothers, aunts, sisters and friends across each of our lives, in addition to being on a campus that is predominately female, we felt like it would be helpful to organize around an issue that affects them, and one that is not talked about nearly enough,” Williams added.
Since deciding to focus on this issue, the program has taken part in a series of educational workshops designed to give the student-athletes the depth of knowledge needed to become informed advocates. They attended the world premiere of the documentary “Birthing Justice” during the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference as guests of Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. Additionally, the team hosted Fatima Goss-Graves, President of the National Women’s Law Center, for a wide-ranging discussion on the women’s rights movement, and the history of activism in this space.
Using the platform provided by their MLK Day game against Morehouse College, the team will be formally kicking off their volunteer efforts around Black maternal health by partnering with Mamatoto Village on a community event to package pregnancy care kits on Sunday, Jan. 15.
Mamatoto Village is devoted to serving Black women through the creation of career pathways in maternal health and providing accessible perinatal support services to expectant Black mothers.
They are an organization run by Black women for Black women, and, according to the team, an ideal partner for their “Day of Service.”