By Dennis J, Freeman
Los Angeles-Everything is not all doom and gloom when it comes to young black men. Contrary to what some major news media outlets are deceitfully trying to articulate to the public about young male athletes, particularly football players, there are plenty of good, law-abiding, high academic-achieving black male scholars roaming the country.
For two decades, the committee sitting on the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Award board has reached out to find those student-athletes and honor them. Unlike one major sports media outlet’s recent one-sided, negative pictorial on the state of college athletics, particularly in the sport of football, the annual Watkins Award is a breath of fresh air for black male student-athletes.
With a consistent push of negative stereotypes too easily thrust upon their character by national media outlets, black male student-athletes have a friend in those who make the Watkins Award happen every year.
This year is no different. In February, five of the nation’s top black male student-athletes were feted at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles for their achievements in the classroom and charity work as well as their athletic success.
The goal of the Watkins Award is to empower young black male student-scholars in education, athletics and public programs.
“As an organization we seek to empower all who are disenfranchised, however we have a higher affinity toward the African American male,” said J. Everette Pearsall, executive officer of the National Alliance of African American Athletes (better known as the Alliance). “The African American male is the most endangered of all segments of America’s population. We are purposed to attack the largest problem of this country at its core by helping to give them hope.”
Founded in 1989, the Alliance has paid homage to this small group of young men since 1992. The list of past Watkins Award winners read like a Who’s Who in the NFL. Former Florida State star and Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle, Atlanta Falcons Justin Blalock, Tampa Bucs Gerald McCoy; San Fran 49ers Ted Ginn Jr., Arizona Cardinals Robert Tate and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis are just a few of the past recipients of the Watkins Award.
The 2011 Watkins Award recipient is just as outstanding. Kendal Thompson, an-all-state football player at Southmoore High School in Oklahoma, and considered to be one of the top quarterback recruits in the country, was awarded the hardware this year.
Thompson, who maintains a 4.3 GPA, while also finding time to mentor other students and take part in the work of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is taking his athletic prowess and academic focus to the University of Oklahoma.
“Kendal is a young man who exemplifies what it means to be a student athlete today. He maintains a balance in his life that addresses not only the demands of athletic excellence, but that of academic excellence.” said Barry Switzer, former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboy football coach.
The other four candidates for the national Watkins Award don’t have anything to hold their heads down about. Their resumes and backgrounds are just as impressive as Thompson’s.
Savon Huggins, Wayne Lyons, Remound Wright and James Vaughters all have grade point averages of 3.8 or better. Lyons had the highest GPA of all five student-athletes, carrying a whopping 4.96 grade point average as a football and academic star at Florida’s Dillard High School.
Wright, a member of the National Honors Society, skates by with just a 4.4 GPA at Indiana’s Bishop Dwenger High School. Huggins, an Under Armour All American and Max Prep All American, is a Pop Warner coach and helps out with the Special Olympics in his hometown of Jackson, New Jersey.
Huggins does all of this while maintaining a 3.8 GPA at St. Peters Prep High School. Vaughters, the Dekalb County Defensive Player of the Year in Georgia, received kudos from the Alliance for his outstanding work with Habitat for Humanity, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA at Tucker High School.
Actress Claudia Jordan has been a part of the Alliance’s work to improve the image of young black men for years. A well-known media personality, Jordan has played an integral part in spreading the word about importance of the yearly Watkins Award, hitting the radio airwaves and using her Hollywood contacts to bring about more awareness to the work of the Alliance.
A co-host of this year’s award ceremony with comedian Lamont King, Jordan said the Watkins Award gives black male scholar-athletes a platform.
“This is something that I feel proud to be a part of,” Jordan said. “All too often we hear when a black man is messing up, when they accidently shoot themselves in the leg in a club or when they owe child support or when they tattoo different ice cream cones on their faces. But we don’t hear when they have 4.96 GPA’s or we don’t hear when they are community activists or leaders or turning down peer pressure to hit the books.
“I get inspired when I come here. It is a great sight to see that this exists. Our media, and our own black media…we’re more interested in glorifying the negatives. That’s something I’ve been speaking about for a long time. I’m tired of it. If more young black men knew about stuff like this, I think they’d follow in their footsteps.”
The Watkins Award is the nation’s first and only award to recognize outstanding achievement in athletics, scholastics, and community service by black male high school seniors. Pearsall is excited about what the Alliance has done to recognize these young men.
“The Watkins Award has done an incredible job of aligning the largest group of leaders in America,” Pearsall said. “These young men represent a group of 79 young men who are the nation’s best athletes, but more importantly carry a graduation rate of over 98%.
“Many of these young men have also gone on to great works of philanthropy and continued community service. These works have been accomplished through their direct efforts and foundations. The world is already a better place. However, we have much more work to do.”