Sports, 2024 Celebrating Black Voices

Black Male Initiative: Black BC Athletes Beyond Sports

As an athlete in a high-level, Division I athletics program like Boston College, it could be easy for a student-athlete to focus solely on performing on the field, boxing oneself into a routine centered around their sport. But according to Nick Thomas, athletes should be looking to make an impact beyond the field.

“I think it’s really important, because at the end of the day, sports are only going to last so long,” said Thomas, Black Male Initiative’s (BMI) co-president and offensive lineman for BC football. “One day, you’re gonna have to put the ball down and when you find another outlet to put your energy to that benefits you and your community, it will definitely be much better than just sticking single minded.”

BMI, founded on Dec. 11, 2020, serves as a place where Black athletes at BC are able to become involved in the BC community beyond athletics and make an impact outside of sports. Kenny Francis, assistant athletics director of student athlete formation and success, expressed a similar sentiment in regards to BMI’s focus on conversations and themes outside of BC athletics.  

“You know, it’s not just about how many yards you gain on the field or how many free throws you hit or how many times you’ve made the Dean’s list, but how are you being a leader in your community?” Francis said. “How are you being a service not only to yourself, but others?”

According to Thomas, finding an outlet beyond athletics is one of the reasons why he joined BMI when he first arrived on the Heights in 2021. 

“So when I first got here, Taji [Johnson] came up to me and introduced me to the Black Male Initiative and brought me in, because I was a young Black man being here on campus, and I wasn’t sure where I usually would fit in other than football,” Thomas said. “And he gave me another outlet to go and fit in with.”

Meeting on the third Sunday of every month, BMI also provides a space for 20 to 30 guys to enjoy each other’s company in a casual setting, according to Thomas. 

“The meetings alone were just always my favorite experiences because we had a Sunday where we’d just get together, talk, play music, joke around, watch some football,” Thomas said. “That whole experience I had had my first two years and being able to carry that on, has just been amazing for me.”

BMI also works with other universities in the Boston area to offer Black athlete mixers that provide local student athletes the chance to attend panels on topics ranging from financial literacy and mental health to empowerment and real estate, according to the BMI co-president and sophomore running back Alex Broome. 

The work of BMI does not stop there, though. The organization works directly on BC’s campus and in the greater Boston area to live out its mission of being “a voice for the unheard.”

“Our mission is just to be a beacon of light, beacon of hope for people … of color across the Boston community,” Broome said. 

Over the years, BMI has worked with various elementary schools, hoping to serve as an example of all that is possible for young kids to achieve in their own lives. 

“It makes me think a lot,” Thomas said. “Because I think of my upbringing and where I come from, and seeing kids of similar nature and similar backgrounds, it really makes me think like, I’m blessed to be where I am. And knowing that I can make it here and give them that hope and vision that they can make it as well, it makes me feel like I can do anything for them. And you know, if I can I will.”

On BC’s campus, BMI also holds an annual 3 v. 3 basketball tournament, partnering with local nonprofit organizations. In previous years, BMI partnered with Mothers for Justice and Equality (MJE) to raise awareness about the group’s goal of ending neighborhood violence by empowering mothers and youth.

Last year, BMI worked with Fathers’ UpLift, which provides mental health counseling, coaching, and advocacy to assist fathers with overcoming emotional, traumatic, addiction-based, and racism-based barriers that prevent them from remaining engaged in their children’s lives. 

“You know, something as small as a 3 v. 3 tournament and I say small, but it’s actually a big production,” Francis said. “It gives them opportunities to apply their leadership skills and, you know, spread the word and create flyers and manage the logistics and do outreach to gauge which nonprofits they would like to partner with. That brings awareness, and that’s progress.”

Michael Harris, director of student-athlete academic services, echoed this sentiment when describing the 3 v. 3 tournament.

“What we see with the three on three basketball tournament is the opportunity to be like ‘No we’re all family,”’ Harris said. “We’re all a community… It becomes a cultural exchange, and it shows the rest of the campus that we’re more than just student athletes.”

Harris added that the 3 v. 3 tournament fosters a sense of community while also allowing its members to take leadership roles.

“The three on three tournament, and the other types of things they coordinate, gives them opportunities in a group space where they feel comfortable, they’re not going to be judged,” Harris said. “They have other people they identify with, to lead and to give back, you know, through that leadership.” 

Like Francis, Broome discussed how at a predominately white institution (PWI) like BC, BMI’s importance is even greater for young Black men to feel represented on campus. 

“It can be a harrowing task when you don’t see people that always look like you in spaces that breed excellence, whether it be this place or any other PWI across the country,” Broome said. “I think it is good to have BMI so we know that we are not alone.”

According to BC’s common data set just 411 of the University’s 9,532 undergraduate students identified under the Black or African American, non-Hispanic option. That is just above 4 percent of BC’s total undergraduate population. 

“For a student athlete or a Black student athlete that’s new to this institution, to know that there’s a group that’s advocating for causes you’re passionate about or that you have an interest in makes the acclimation and transition phase a lot easier,” Francis said. 

According to Francis, one of BMI’s goals is also to debunk the stereotypes often placed on Black men. 

“I think trying to debunk the stereotypes that are too often placed on Black males is a major goal and priority of the Black Male Initiative,” Francis said. “That is a major goal of mine to communicate that and convey that to our student athletes, so that they can … just think critically about their experience and who it is they want to be and who it is they’re striving to be.” 

February is Black History Month in the United States, and for Thomas, Broome, and BMI, the month is a time to remember and celebrate the Black people who paved the path for social progress today. 

“I think it’s important to recognize people like … Rosa Parks, MLK, Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, people like that,” Broome said. “But also recognize smaller people that we might not talk about as much but played just as much of a role.”

Thomas reflected on how his appreciation of Black History Month has developed over the years.

“Growing up, Black History Month was something that I didn’t pay as much attention to just because I didn’t really understand what I was going to gain from it,” Thomas said. “But now that I’m older and I get to look back on it, Black History Month is really important for us, for future generations to learn about what’s really going to happen, and what’s going on in the world, and what mistakes that we’ve made in the past that can focus on fixing in the future.”

In late February, BMI will be hosting a Black Male Initiative Week to ensure everyone on campus is aware of the impact it can have on BC’’s community.

“Obviously, the campus knows about us and our 3 v. 3 tournament at the end of the year,” Thomas said. “Which is a staple for us, but we want to make sure that we take over more than just that, we want our name to be known as Black Male Initiative, not just ‘Oh, the BMI group.’ We want to make sure that everybody knows who we are. We want to leave an imprint on BC.”

February 19, 2024