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A safe space

Minority Coaches Association of Georgia is a safe place for the state’s Black football coaches


This is a guest feature article from Donnell Suggs, who is a staff writer for the Southern Cross and a freelance writer living in Savannah. An active member of the National Association of Black Journalists, his work has been published in the Savannah Morning News, ESPN’s The Undefeated, Atlanta Magazine, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Newnan Times-Herald and The Atlanta Voice.

Riverdale, Ga. – Charles R. Drew High School Assistant Principal William Silveri’s silver SUV pulled up outside of Southern Crescent Stadium on a hot afternoon in September. He’s there to meet me to talk about his position as the assistant executive director of the Minority Coaches Association of Georgia (MCAofGA), and it just so happens to be time for the Drew Titans football team to practice.

Titans junior linebacker Kalen Justice walked by wearing a HBCU camp cut-off t-shirt when Silveri pointed his way, “See that shirt,” he asked me. “Come here Kalen.” The shirt was from last year’s Historically Black College and University (HBCU) camp held at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta. Justice was one of hundreds of players invited to the camp in order to demonstrate their abilities in front of dozens of coaches.

Coaches from Florida A&M University to Fort Valley State University to North Carolina A&T University and Savannah State University were in attendance to name a few.

“We had commitments from almost every HBCU program,” said Silveri, himself a former high school coach who also worked as a guidance counselor at Riverdale High School. He knows kids and understands what motivates student-athletes at this level.

But, the MCAofGA not only is a source of recruiting for players, it is a safe place and resource for Black and brown coaches throughout the state.

“There’s not a high school in Clayton County I can walk in where the kids don’t know me,” he said. “They respect the MCAofGA and are watching us, holding us to the same standards that we hold them to.”

Photo of Illinois head coach Lovie Smith speaking at the 2020 coaches conference courtesy of MCAofGA

On being a strong resource for coaches he added, “The MCAofGA is important because we have to help each other. It’s important that we support each other as we grow. As coaches we are normally safe spaces for our kids. This association is a safe space for us to go and talk.”

MCAofGA Executive Director Ahmand Tinker believes spaces like these are very important in an industry that may not be necessarily supportive of coaches of color. “We feel like it is important to have that safe space because sometimes when you speak against the norms where you work a lot of our bosses may label us as ‘angry Black men’ or ‘radicals’,” said Tinker, the principal at Maggie Brown Middle School in Newnan. “It is important that this organization is available for all coaches, all sports.”

Tinker noted there are currently basketball and track and field groups ready to go along with the huge football contingent.

Situations like the murders of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia and more recently Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York by local police departments are conversations coaches and players of color need to have in the locker rooms, classrooms and on the practice fields around the state and around the country. Having coaches that look like you and have been where you have been, lived where you have lived, makes those conversations a bit easier.

“I think there are some issues that affect minority coaches differently than do other coaches,” said Burke County head football coach Eric Parker, who has spent more than two decades of his 30-year career as a head coach. “We bounce ideas off of one another, get suggestions concerning problems, having this network will get any of us pointed in the right direction.”

“I am a firm believer that every state needs an organization like this,” said Tinker.

There are, in fact, a few similar organizations like the Missouri Minority Coaches Association and the Minority Coaches Association of North Carolina. The only of its kind in the state, the MCAofGA is a unique place for men — and women — in a unique position.

“You don’t have to bring your representative self, you can truly be yourself,” said Jasper Jewell, director of athletics for Atlanta Public Schools and a founding member of the association. “In my opinion that’s the beauty of this organization.”

“Our organization discusses how we should carry ourselves,” said Westover High School head football coach Olton Downs, a father of a 17-year old son. “We have open conversations about what’s going on in the world, things like social injustice. Conversations some other coaches don’t want to have.”

“It’s just a place where you can let everything out and get help with your problems,” said Silveri.

Each one, teach one

According to the MCAofGA website the association’s mission statement is simple:

To increase the knowledge and development of students and minorities involved in athletics, the MCAofGA is dedicated to providing a positive atmosphere where issues can be debated and resolved in a timely and respectful manner.

“Back when I started we didn’t have a voice like this. The MCAofGA not only educates and empowers young coaches coming up through the ranks but it recognizes us for who we are and our abilities as veteran coaches.”

Fayette County head football coach Nick Davis

Tinker, a founding member of the organization, believes the mission statement hasn’t changed since the start in 2010. “Our mission and our vision is to help educate coaches, players, and parents,” said Tinker, who began having meetings with founding members back in 2008 before the official start two years later.

Asked why MCAofGA is important 10 years after beginning their mission Downs said, “We started an organization to get coaches together as a network in order to help each other grow and share ideas. There’s something for everyone.”

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“We have such a strong network and a strong bond so we can handle anything,” said Jewell who oversees thousands of middle school and high school student-athletes in Atlanta and is an Atlanta Public Schools alumnus. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this organization. I’m not a coach anymore but I still couldn’t be more proud.”

“Back when I started we didn’t have a voice like this,” said Fayette County head football coach Nick Davis, a 26-year veteran of the business. “The MCAofGA not only educates and empowers young coaches coming up through the ranks but it recognizes us for who we are and our abilities as veteran coaches.”

Membership has its privileges

Membership for the MCAofGA is free and that alone separates the organization from many of its contemporaries. Tinker and the rest of the executive board believe keeping the mission focussed on exposure for players and coaches and less on finances has been a major benefit to the association’s success.

Photo of Ahmand Tinker courtesy of MCAofGA

“He who controls the product has the power,” joked Tinker. “This organization is about the educational component. We want to change that stigma of what society may believe about how we work together.”

Support for MCAofGa comes completely through the coaches that help run it. There are little if any sponsors involved in the camps and virtual conferences that take place. The most recent virtual conference had guest speakers like Penn State head football coach James Franklin and North Carolina Central University head men’s basketball coach Levelle Moton, both well-respected public speakers to go along with their successful careers.

Local coaches like Griffin High School head football coach Kareem Reid were invited to speak as well, the goal being to continue building bridges from coach to coach, program to program.

“We had 60 coaches in that first meeting,” said Tinker of the 2010 introductory meeting. “It was fully supported by some of the best football coaches in the state, coaches with state championships.”

“It’s always good to have a group that can help the next generation,” said Parker. “It’s always good to give back what people gave to you.”

Mission almost accomplished

The association has long-term goals of adding $1 million of liability insurance and to start applying membership dues in order to further legitimize its standing among other coaching organizations. The association events like the HBCU Camp had to be rescheduled due to COVID-19, but there are more events on tap for next year. Should the pandemic ease in 2021, there is a girls flag football camp slated to be held at Lakewood Stadium, something MCAofGA is looking forward to hosting.

There also are recruiting fairs that would normally be a great way for the coaches within the association and those looking to join to gather and connect. They have been cancelled too but are on the agenda for a post-COVID world.

The MCAofGA still has so many boxes to check, people to help, communities to affect.

 “At the end of the day it’s about helping the kids you serve,” said Parker. “A lot of these kids are from where we are from.”

The views and opinions expressed in submitted articles, essays and features are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the editorial staff at BTT. 

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