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NBA

How Masai's plea for change sparked a Canadian movement

#Masai

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri made an impassioned plea during an interview on CBC Radio's The Current, urging people to come together in the face of hate.

"[This is a moment] for everybody to look at themselves in the mirror," Ujiri said. "And ask the question 'Who are you as a person?'"

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Ujiri has always spoken up in support of equality, this isn't new for him. This isn't a new conversation, but since the murder of George Floyd, it appears more are willing to listen.

Lee Anna Osei has always been an advocate for equity and inclusion. She's made an effort to use her platform or connections to help those from her community, but Floyd's death and Ujiri's words served as a calling to do even more.

Osei is the women's basketball head coach at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. She's one of a small group of Black head coaches at the post-secondary level.

Osei played at the U Sport level and also spent time at the University of Miami before shifting her focus to developing the next generation. As a player at some of the highest non-pro levels, she was able to gain valuable knowledge and contacts that helped her navigate life after her playing career, but it still wasn't enough. She faced barriers and had questions that few had the answers too - few that looked like her that is.

Through it all, she was able to land a job at the U Sport level and while she'd been able to make it through a tough path that isn't exactly straight forward, her focus has always been on helping others achieve their goals.

So when Ujiri urged leaders of their community to step up and force change, Osei was ready to leap into action.

With the help of a handful of coaches and colleagues at the college and university level, Osei launched the Black Canadian Coaches Association (B.C.C.A), a not-for-profit organization committed to providing a platform for Black Canadians in sport.

Osei hopes that the B.C.C.A can unite Black, Indigenous or persons of colour (BIPOC) helping them connect, be celebrated and have access to others in the sports industry.

"I look at the disparity between minority coaches and non-minority coaches," Osei told NBA.com. "And my high school coach, who's a good friend of mine, and me, we both went through scenarios where we really needed a voice or a supporting cast to kind of back us in dealing with scenarios that are hard to navigate because you're the only person (dealing with them).

"So that's where the idea came from. How can we stand up for our coaches? Our coaches for hire, but then also shedding light on the many people who do work at the grassroots level.

"Being a university coach, there are so many systemic issues and challenges when we're trying to help young men and young women who are also first-generation (Canadian) and so their parents may not be able to give them that support of understanding how to navigate the schooling process and everything else."

Earlier this week CBC Sports did an investigation on the lack of diversity in Canadian sport.

The visual audit reviewed key positions at all 56 Canadian schools at the U Sport level which included athletic directors and head coaches across five different sports.

In the nearly 400 jobs examined, only 10 percent were held by Black, Indigenous or persons of colour. There was only one non-white athletic director in the 56 schools in the investigation.

"I watched Masai's passionate interview talking about more diversity and I asked myself for these established coaches that are at the grassroots level for 20 plus years but want to get their foot in the door or are maybe looking at how they become a Raptors junior coach," Osei continued. "Where would someone like Masai go to look for candidates?

"Again the answer was nowhere. It's either you know somebody who knows somebody or it's a complete shot in the dark."

While the name Black Canadian Coaches Association might lead you to believe that the group is strictly interested in advocating for coaches, Osei's vision is to bring together the entire sporting industry.

The B.C.C.A has already started to connect with current and aspiring coaches, media and marketing members, fitness and wellness coaches and Black-owned businesses.

And while the immediate goal is to unite as many BIPOC voices as possible, Osei's goals for the B.C.C.A don't end there.

The group hopes to develop and offer culturally sensitive education and awareness regarding anti-Blackness, mental health awareness, bystander training and LGBTQ+ awareness training.

They'll also look to implement a yearly awards gala dedicated to the achievement of Black Canadians in sport, and to support research that will contribute to making Canadian sport more inclusive to all.

"I think this is long overdue," Osei said. "Just having a space and just creating a network where whether you're working out west in B.C. or you're working in Alberta you know you got this hub of supporters that are from diverse backgrounds that just want to empower you.

"They want to connect you to the people that you need to connect with and they want to see you flourish in the sports industry.

"So it's not just advocacy for our coaches and our athletes, it's advocacy for our community."

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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