LOVE, FAMILY, TOGETHERNESS - these three words describe Malik Smith’s upbringing.

Malik grew up in Far Rockaway Queens with his mother and two brothers. He grew up in a tight knit Christian home surrounded by love and encouragement from his family.

As Malik’s life progressed, he began to observe the neighbor“hood” he lived in. Even though Manhattan, a place that is perceived, as being full of opportunity was a short train away, his daily life in the “hood” was his reality. A reality that was littered with examples of inequities as it relates to low-income and brown and black people. Being able to consistently purchase fresh food from a supermarket, lack of adequate housing and sub-par educational resources are just a few examples. Malik digested everything around him and wanted to be sure that his decisions were not negatively influenced by the conditions in which he lived. He grew to believe that the only way he could “make it” was to get out of New York State and he did just that.

After graduating from high school, Malik attended Hampton University, an HBCU. During his first visit to the campus, he fell in love with the school. He loved the tranquil location of the university and the pride that emanated from those on the campus. It was at this school where Malik was able to connect with his love of self as a black man. It was at Hampton that he was able to freely express himself in dress, in speech, in what he read. He felt liberated. He felt visible.

After graduating from Hampton, Malik eventually went to work for ESPN. He holds the position of statistical analyst. This role requires one, an undeniable love for sports and two, an appreciation for statistical information and how it helps to shape sports. Malik has both. Working for ESPN was a dream come true for him but on July 7th 2016 something terrible happened that forever changed his perception of how we view sports in this country.

Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed a group of police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five and injuring nine others. The shooting was viewed as one of retaliation. Malik recalls going to work and finding it difficult to focus. He remembers his Caucasian colleagues remarking about what a terrible tragedy this was but they would then quickly move on with their day. He could not comprehend how this incident could not, did not move them. The events of that day consumed his thoughts.

Sports are important in so many ways. It helps to develop character; it gives us hope and something to root for. It is also a gateway to socialization. That specific event and the reaction of others helped Malik understand that as much as he loves sports, they really don’t matter. He knew that the shooting could surely lead to an even greater sense of scrutiny towards the black man. This country was already so deeply divided as it relates to race. He worried what the ramifications might be.

As he still works to figure out where he fits in the world as a black man, he is beginning to deliberately draw on his life experiences so far. From the music he listens to, to the books he reads, to his time at Hampton. He remains a socially conscious young man who has come to fully understand the necessity for – black lives matter, black love, and black self-expression. He remains fully engaged with these ideologies and is committed to moving towards whatever he can do to make the world better in a very real and tangible way.