I feel that we can all help start more conversations in regard to leadership, diversity, inclusion and respect. The old adage, never judge a book by its cover, applies to all walks of life. I remember when I first went to Stanford University, I participated in a group activity with my entire freshman dorm. All of us were apprehensive about this new chapter in our lives. The leader had us stand in a straight line and would pose a question to the group. Students would either take a step forward or stand still based on their individual response.
I took a step forward. I looked around the room and saw a group of people of different religions, races, genders, you name it. And they all answered the same way I did. The actual questions that brought us together weren't important; the questions and answers that followed were. All of a sudden, a group of strangers realized a collective common ground which served as a jumping off point for conversation.
A lot of times it's just a lack of exposure and awareness that is holding people back. Conversation and interaction help erase the lack of understanding by challenging people to discuss different things; share and appreciate new points of view. Eventually, we are able to accept and grow.
I've always found basketball to be a great vehicle to bring people together. It's such an easy sport to understand. It's just two hoops and a ball. You can play it indoors or outdoors and there is something about five people coming together -- and finding common language.
What sports can do is create a safe space for children. Some kids are going through some really difficult circumstances and dealing with adversity. But when they are on the court for a few hours, there is a safe space and a safe environment to play, interact, talk, and hang out. It's so important to know that someone else out there cares about you, that someone is trying to help and is on your team.
When you see guys like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and many other players in the sport showing this level of care to work with young people, it's pretty telling how important that type of work can be.
I'd invite people of all ages to be an ally to someone who is less fortunate. You might be in the midst of a good situation -- but take the time to be a counselor, a mentor, or just a positive role model because it's a great thing to do and you never know when the person who needs the help could be you. At some point, you'll be going through that tough time and you'll appreciate the support.
There are so many ways to get involved. Last year, I was thrilled to work with the league to donate the proceeds of my Brooklyn Nets jersey to the Matthew Shepard Foundation and GLSEN. They are two organizations that do tremendous work to replace hate with understanding, compassion, and acceptance.
Your gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation has no effect on your ability to lead conversations. You can help others recognize the common ground and ultimately, you can change hearts and minds.