In the wake of George Floyd's death last summer, the Washington Football Team came together to discuss racial injustice in America and how it could bring about positive change in the community.
"We kept the focus on education and helping the kids in our community, right in our backyard," said long snapper Nick Sundberg, who helped organize the meeting. "We had a few guys in the room who grew up going to Boys & Girls clubs, so they suggested, 'Hey, there's quite a few of them in D.C., why don't we reach out to them to see what kind of programs they offer. We all decided that we wanted to help find education classes and things that mattered."
In a span of several months, that initial conversation has blossomed into an initiative Washington announced as part of its celebration of Black History Month in February. With players leading the charge, along with help from alumnus Doug Williams and senior director of player development Malcolm Blacken, the team's Charitable Foundation has partnered with EverFi and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington to bring an African American History program to students in the DC metro area.
The goal of the partnership, according to the press release, is "to educate and encourage kids and teens of all races and backgrounds to have difficult conversations and use their voices to create positive change."
"African American influence can be found at the core of American life, and communicating these stories is foundational to building shared values and inspiring today's youth to become tomorrow's leaders," EverFi founder and president Jon Chapman said. "For too long, these histories have been mistaught and reduced to only recognize a handful of prominent figures. We applaud the Washington Football Team for working with the local Washington, D.C. area Boys and Girls Clubs to provide students with more accurate, balanced, and comprehensive accounts of Black experiences."
Williams and Sundberg agree with Chapman, emphasizing that Black history is much more than Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, among others. Williams added that Blacks have been part of America since its inception, so he believes it's imperative to learn about the struggles and triumphs of a wide variety of them throughout history.
And by way of EverFi's 306: African-American History digital course, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington will have a chance to do so as a part of its Breaking Down Barriers initiative.
The course, which is aimed towards middle school students and high schoolers, covers four key areas: Slavery in the United States, Emancipation and Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights and Beyond. Going at their own pace, students will learn about the leaders and events that shaped each era and helped change the fabric of American life. They will then complete a capstone exercise, which in this case is a final essay reflecting on everything they learned.
Having played for Washington from 1986-89 before returning as an executive in 2014, Williams said he spent a lot of time in D.C. visiting schools and talking to students. He sees the nation's capital as an area with "a great number of young black men and women" who do not get to talk about their history. And while he believes the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a valuable resource, there needs to be more ways for younger generations to fully understand.
"If we can just incorporate Black history into the Boys & Girls Clubs across the city and get others, like athletes and alumni, to get involved, it becomes a big deal because I'm a firm believer in if you touch one, you've got a chance of touching 10," said Williams, the first African American quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl. "If you teach one who can go out and teach the other ones, and you can get the other kids involved in it because they become excited, and they want to be a part of it."
The partnership, while exciting, is just the first step in the minds of Williams and Sundberg. They intend to be involved throughout the implementation phase, visiting different locations and helping teach students once it is safe to do so. That's when they'll be able to see tangible effects of emphasizing Black history to the next generation of difference makers.
"I think the most important thing is that you learn about the struggles that so many blacks had to go through in order to be where we are today," Williams said. "And I think with a lot of the young Black kids, what you do is you give them hope when you realize that there's an awful lot of Blacks who have contributed. And the way they contributed, you give them hope that they can do the same thing when they get old enough to be considered that guy or that girl who has to take care of other people, that they can contribute the same way some of these heroes and sheroes have done in the past."