NBA superstar and Forsyth County native Chris Paul talks about HBCU advocacy

In Black and White

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul gives instruction to teammates in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

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Historically Black Colleges and Universities are changing. Many are becoming more diverse. As the make-up of their student bodies changes, these campuses will always be central to the culture of any community they’re in and central to social justice efforts. We talked one-on-one with one of the fiercest advocates for both: Winston-Salem’s favorite son and NBA superstar Chris Paul.

Paul is arguably one of the greatest point guards to ever play in the NBA. He says he’s much more.

“Aside from playing professional basketball which is my job, my livelihood — it’s not who I am. I’m a father. I’m a husband before everything else,” he said.

As president of the NBA Players Association, he encourages his fellow players to use their global platform for change.

“When we decided to go play in the Bubble, it was bigger than just the game,” he said. “We wanted to use our platform for more than just dunks and three-point shots. We wanted to show everybody that we’re human just like everyone else and we see everything else that’s going on in the world.”

Their uniforms and the court had messages supporting racial equality and social justice.

“No matter what game, what arena we play in, after the game there’s not one player who goes to the car after the game with their uniform on. So when we leave those arenas, those games, we leave as…I leave the game as a Black man. So when I get in this car I’m subject to the same things that we see day in and day out that go on. So I think we all felt responsible for that.”

He tells us he’s proud of the civic engagement he saw in the Bubble and beyond.

“We let all the players know that in the last two elections less than 20 percent of our body of players voted. So when we told the guys that, everybody took a look at themselves and were like how are we going to tell everybody else to do this and we’re not doing it? So we all took action. We got over 95 percent of our league registered to vote.”

Paul used his platform to raise awareness about Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs. Every game, he wore clothing and shoes representing a different HBCU.

“I grew up at Winston-Salem State. All the time, after my Pop Warner football games, I was at Winston-Salem State. I was at homecoming. Everybody in my family went to HBCUs except for me.”

He played at Wake Forest, but HBCUs are in his heart.

“I had a talent that I could play basketball. But had I not had that talent, would I be at Wake Forest? Not sure,” he said. “I would not be where I am without Wake Forest University and I’m forever grateful and will always be a proud Demon Deacon. But I think what happened is as I got older and I left school, I started to get more educated on why HBCUs exist. A lot of these HBCUs were founded because you couldn’t go anywhere else to be taught. So these schools were needed.”

Today, he’s taking two communications classes at Winston-Salem State University.

Last week he spent time on campus, at at North Caroling A&T, getting students out to vote.

“There’s sort of been an awakening among a lot of people. Not just athletes, but people in general. And you see all this money finally going to these different HBCUs,” he told FOX8. “I went to a class at Harvard Business School 5-6 years ago and was like man this class is dope. Why isn’t this at other schools. So the teacher who taught me, we partnered together and last summer we introduced this class to North Carolina A&T.”

He says it’ll take a lot more funding for HBCUs to survive and compete at the same level as predominantly white schools. Access to these kinds of classes helps close that gap, which he says is good for everyone. He hopes his effort to raise their profile helps keep them moving forward.

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