As a Carolina Panthers fan, I’m joining the rest of football nation with excitement to see if the new pieces of our team can get us to the Super Bowl. Veteran wide receiver Torrey Smith is among the players wearing a Panthers jersey for the first time after an offseason trade.
But I’m even more excited about the Schools Not Prisons initiative Smith has been showcasing on T-shirts at training camp, joined by teammates including Captain Munnerlyn (former Gamecock) and Mike Adams. The back of the shirt says “Nearly 5,000 kids are in adult prisons and jails.” The T-shirt is a very small aspect of a movement created by the “Players Coalition” which was created by Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins with the goal to turn the message of inequality from highly politicized anthem protests to action that brings real change.
“We live in a society right now where we are building a lot of jails, but schools aren’t getting the funds … the resources they need,” Smith said. “You have kids who aren’t educated or don’t have access to a quality education, and you tend to get in more trouble or not have the resources that they need to deal with their issues, whether that’s anger issues or family issues at home, which leads them to make a bad decision.”
A 2016 U.S. Department of Education report found that funding for K-12 education nationwide grew by 107 percent 1979—2013 while state and local spending on corrections grew 324 percent.
The report even acknowledges a link between education and incarceration; about two-thirds of American inmates have not graduated from high school. Since 1990, average state spending has increased 44 percent for corrections while funding for post-secondary education has decreased by 28 percent.
South Carolina is one of seven states where corrections budgets increased at more than five-times the rate of K-12 spending over the period, the report says.
The basic principle of valuing education for everyone should not be a matter of debate. However, historic American values and principles suggest our government is only interested in profit and power. Our current health care system is oriented to profit from encouraging disease and treating symptoms instead of preventing diseases. The reason is a value for profit and capitalism over human life and access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The prison system is fed by our nation’s disease of innate, historic racism. There is a lot of money to be made in prisons and many industries benefit from mass incarceration. This is relevant in a country founded by white settlers who largely considered anyone who was black or brown to be inferior. The racist philosophies that allowed for the decimation of native populations and the enslavement and brutalization of Africans are embedded in the political framework of this country. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president, a dramatic turning point in a country whose ideals were drawn up by white people, for white people. Since the beginning of Euro-American history, most certainly since American emancipation, non-white folks have had to fight for equality in every aspect of life. It would be ignorant to think that policies and institutions created during times of overt and accepted racism don’t have continued impacts today.
These days, the antebellum economy that exploited blacks to drive profits has simply been adjusted to accommodate emancipation. The prison economy exploits the unique challenges faced by African Americans, rooted in white supremacy, resulting in the situations Smith is fighting with #schoolsnotprisons. Need proof? Look no further than radio host Laura Ingraham and President Donald Trump. Ingraham told LeBron James, one of the most accomplished and influential athletes in America, to “shut up and dribble” when he dared to express a negative opinion about the white, Republican president. Trump called James dumb in a tweet, trolling him by referencing Michael Jordan in the debate over who is the all-time best. Of course, MJ, showing more class than Trump could comprehend, acknowledged James’ work and accomplishments without stooping to the president’s caveman-level insults. Jordan pretty much, metaphorically, posterized him.
Of course, men like Smith, James, and Jordan are not the first to have to overcome. But this time, they’re overcoming a bigot president and everyone who thought kneeling during the national anthem was an affront to this country instead of a cry for help, as if black people in America haven’t been overcoming since the first crack of the whip.
Men like Torrey Smith and LeBron James are the ones working to Make America Great Again. To turn his own phrase, Trump is an enemy of the state. He’s a speed bump in history, one that we will get past the way Torrey Smith and the Panthers will, hopefully, run past opponents this year.
Ali was born in Greenville, SC but grew up in High Point, NC where he studied English/Writing at High Point University. He has called Charleston home since 2006 and wants to believe Bigfoot is real.