COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Following George Floyd’s death in police custody, Gamecock men’s head basketball head coach, Frank Martin, picked up the phone to call a longtime friend.
The two grew up in the same neighborhood in South Florida. His friend now works in law enforcement in Miami. The conversation shared reinforced to Martin not to put hate on a badge or engage in hate.
“We have to continue to share love,” Martin said. “Not get distracted from the growth and change that has happened.”
Martin calls our nation complicated because of its history, not what it stands for.
“We’re in a much better place than we were 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and ten years ago,” added Martin. “But, we’re still close enough to that period where there is still ugliness deep-rooted in people.”
Martin grew up in South Florida, the son of Cuban political refugees.
"We live in a democracy," said Martin. "My family came from communism. In communism, everyone's dumbed down. They don't educate you on purpose, so you don't have the ability to think and express yourself. The less we develop our minds—the lesser our abilities to express what we think and be in control."
"I come from an area called 'Little Havana,'" said Martin. "I come from a neighborhood where going to college is not part of the equation. The majority of people in my neighborhood did not attend college. If it was not for sports, I would not have attended college."
Martin believes education is critical to creating the foundation to address inequalities and effect change.
"I was a have not," added Martin. "What makes people think that I was a have is because I was able to step foot on a college campus. There were a lot of guys like me, girls like me that never got that opportunity. So, they've never been able to move forward."
"Some people run the 100-yard dash," Martin said. "People like me, we run the hurdles. It doesn't prevent us from running the race; there's a lot of stuff in the middle trying to get us not to run as fast. Making it harder to get to the finish line."
Despite the more difficult path to success, Martin has a deep love for this country.
"We're all different and believe different things," Martin said. "I have a love for this country, and for the way, it gave my family an opportunity. I've been racially profiled, driving a car, I've been racially profiled walking into a waffle house. I try not to create hate in my heart."
Martin recalls the multiple riots in 1980 sparked by a similar situation to that of Floyd's death in Minneapolis last week. A police officer killed the older brother of one of his teammates. Many of the riots that ensued because of that took place in a neighborhood near Miami called Overtown. Martin says the destruction to businesses and property has had a lasting impact to this day.
"For the last 40 years, there hasn't been big industry in the neighborhood to provide jobs and the ability to work and eat in the same neighborhoods they live in," stated Martin. "That's sad. That's why I'm against the rioting."
He recognizes inequities endure for minorities. Issues he faced as a young man, still exist in his old neighborhood.
"A lot of talks, but no action, no real change," continued Martin. "So, people get frustrated. When they get frustrated, they act of anger."
Protests nationwide and locally have been peaceful and violent at times. He believes the destruction of property and injury to people from the turbulence, only tears a community apart.
"Fighting doesn't get us to understand each other," stated Martin. "Fighting gets us to stay away from each other. Let's learn how to co-exist and learn from each other. Then the most important, the people that make decisions as to how our neighborhoods function, let's fix those problems."
Martin's experience in basketball re-emphasizes the importance to co-exist and learn from each other, as communities work together to address inequalities.
"What you can't ever do is stop," stressed Martin. "When you stop, you go backward. We have to keep fighting to create the change. I don't use that literally. Fight by voting, doing things that we need to do to generate our voices."
Coach believes his platform as a Gamecock provides the opportunity to effect positive change.
"We all have an end date in life and professionally," said Martin. "Whenever we expire, did we make whatever we were a part of better? If we didn't, we failed."
Martin, a man of faith, feels fate brought him to Columbia. It did more than provide a larger platform to share the importance of education and his message of love and unity. But, it opened his eyes to the issues African-Americans face to this day.
"I thought I understood," Martin said. He's in an interracial marriage and has bi-racial kids. Yet, living here in Columbia for the last eight years has provided even more insight into the struggles of the black community.
"I learned as a head coach; it's important to understand everybody's problems so that I can co-exist with people. You learn by listening. When you listen, more people become more open to listening to you. Once you listen, you have to express. You have to be candid in expression."
Martin adds he's thankful for how our local law enforcement leaders interact within the Columbia community.