Opinion

Op-Ed: How this black father processes the killing of George Floyd, another black father

Key Points
  • CNBC sports business reporter shares his experience after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minnesota.
A man recites spoken word poetry at a makeshift memorial honoring George Floyd, at the spot where he was taken into custody, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., June 1, 2020. Picture taken June 1, 2020.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

First came the tears, then sadness, followed by the rage.

Days after I watched the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minnesota, my editor Jeff McCracken convinced me to write from the heart. But to do that, I needed more perspective on how to advance such a painful discussion that arose from yet another incident involving the killing of black people in this country -- our country.

The perspective I needed came from black men I respect, like Paul Mitchell and the great Elmer Smith, a former columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News.

I needed to hear how they dealt with the riots of 1968 and how I could do my part in the arena of my profession.

In the conversation with Mitchell, we spoke about our first meeting in Minneapolis, the same city where George Floyd died. Back in 2015, I met Mitchell while we attended the National Association of Black Journalists conference. At the time, I kept telling friends how great the city is and that diversity was flourishing.

The thing is, I know today I was wrong. It's not that Minneapolis isn't a beautiful city; it's that I focused on the appearance of downtown and forgot about its black communities, especially those that emulate where I come from in north Philadelphia. While there in 2015, I didn't take the time to visit those communities.

The conversation with Smith left me a bit speechless. Emmett Till came up, and how the events of 1955 led to the Civil Rights movement. Tamir Rice's name came up, too, as did the Feb. 23 death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

Then he mentioned Cornell Warren, who fled from Philadelphia Police on Sept. 23, 1978, while in handcuffs following his arrest for reckless driving. According to the Washington Post, Warren's motive for running away: he feared the police would beat him. Instead, Cornell Warren ended up dead.

McCracken also told me of Malice Green, a black man beaten to death in Detroit in November 1992. And after hearing the comments made by Merck CEO Ken Frazier, another Philadelphia native, the perspective was complete for me to share my thoughts.

I'm a black man and a black father. I'm proud to say I'm also a black journalist at CNBC. But through it all, I thought of my father.

I'm here partly because my father decided to bus me to Edwin Forrest elementary school when I was in the third grade. That broadened my horizons and my perspective, showing me there was a world outside of the 3100 block of Judson Street and Blumberg Projects, where we also stayed.

He wanted me to take advantage of the computers that were available in schools located in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, which at the time was a mostly white community. He also decided to leave me back in the seventh grade as he knew I didn't receive the education required for me to advance. I disliked the decision at the time but thank him for it today.

He kept me involved in activities that allowed me to see and want more, but warned me the pitfalls of racism forced me to take "speech, manners, and conduct" seriously. It's that conduct that helps me through the nervousness when I get pulled over by the police.

My father, Gary Young, gave lectures at local libraries in Philadelphia. The topics ranged from Africans in America before Christopher Columbus to the ancient Olmec heads. He introduced me to lectures from Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, and it was through him I listened to the "Last Message" by Malcolm X.

The presence of my father helped change my life and the trajectory of it. But too often, black children who are now adults don't have their black fathers due to incidents like the deaths of George Floyd and Malice Green. In communities stricken by poverty and hopelessness, some races have no idea how having a black father can help the black child survive.

And as a black father and a black man, I now know that I have to do more to help other black communities.

First, I have to vote more in local elections for judges and district attorneys. I need to take it more seriously. The conversation with Smith, a black man, helped me realize that.

When I visit cities while covering sports, I need to go to those black communities and offer my time. The same way Stephen A. Smith, Mike Bruton, and Ron Burke, three black men and fellow journalists, helped me, I have to help black youth achieve their goals. Thank you to my dear brother Mitchell for helping me with that perspective.

And when I think about my profession covering sports, even the leagues that bring us together need to address issues about racism and how it stifles advancement in the workplace at the highest levels. The National Football League's diversity problems are on full display. But I contacted the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League to inquire about programs they offer to help black youth learn front office roles. I wanted to know if there are programs that teach how a salary cap works, or programs that can help them become CEOs and not just a general manager.

Both the MLB and NHL acknowledged they need to change. I have an interview with an NHL official on Friday and look forward to reporting what I learn. And to its credit, the NBA hasn't shied away from racial dialogue. I discussed the matter with a league official for over an hour, and I'll soon be speaking in depth with another diversity official.

The conversation was helpful and allowed me to understand some programs are in place, and that the league office itself is diverse. But the thing is, much like our country, buried in the NBA is a hidden racism and nepotism often revealed when I speak to black executives who can't get an interview for higher positions because they are black. 

In the league's 2019 Racial and Gender report card, the NBA received an A-plus when it came to racial hiring overall, but received an F when it comes to racial hiring for team presidents and CEOs. Since the report began tracking the total number of CEO and president roles in the 2003-2004 season, there have never been more than seven blacks in those positions in a season. Currently, Cynthia Marshall of the Dallas Mavericks and Fred Whitfield of the Charlotte Hornets serve as the the only black CEOs in the NBA out of 30 teams. That needs to change. 

Thank you to Frazier for motivating me to do my part to hold leagues accountable, to seek real action and not just statements and donations. Maybe that changes the career trajectory of someone else.

Watching this video caused some of those tears. I watched it repeatedly, and each time, I cried. I hear and see the anger of two black men in living in America.

We want to live. We want to achieve our dreams. We want to help black youth live and achieve theirs. We want the resources to advance in our careers and help our communities. And we want justice.

The tears are gone. The rage has subsided too. But the sadness remains because I still have no clue what to tell my six-year-old daughter about how this world may perceive her,  a little black girl who hopes to be a doctor.

In a little more than two weeks, we'll celebrate Father's Day. Hopefully, we don't lose more black fathers as we wait for June 21 to arrive. To the black fathers we lost, including Floyd, also the father of a 6-year-old black girl, rest in peace.

Jabari Young is a sports business reporter at CNBC.com.