WILLIAMSTOWN, MA- In light of the recent conversation surrounding systemic racism in the United States, the Williams Track & Field and Cross Country teams united to raise money for the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and the Atlanta HBCU Alumni Alliance.
"I thought that this was a really good way to be actionable," stated women's Track & Field pole vaulter Cris Young. "Williams is a private institution that holds a lot of wealth in and of itself, but I knew a lot of members of the Williams community are often in a financial place to be donating whether it's $5 or $300."
The Equal Justice Initiative is a nonprofit organization that is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment by offering legal representation to people who have been unlawfully convicted and unfairly treated in the criminal justice system. Founded by Bryan Stevenson in 1989, the EJI defends poverty-stricken communities that have been historically marginalized.
The teams raised $15,407 for the EJI through the use of Instagram and matching donations. The athletes put a bingo board on their Instagram feeds that allowed people to pick a spot on the board and donate anywhere from $5 to $25. From there, various team members used connections that they had with for-profit organizations to find 2:1 and 4:1 matching donations.
For their second fundraiser, the Track & Field and Cross Country teams participated in a virtual 5K hosted by the Atlanta HBCU Alumni Alliance. The Atlanta HBCU is a community-based organization committed to helping students at HBCUs by gaining access to scholarships, STEM programs, student recruitment, and more. 22 athletes from both teams participated in the 5K and raised $2,066.
"We all simply rallied around two important initiatives and treated the fundraiser as a whole team event, the same way we would all come together at the end of a track meet for the 4x400 relays," said Track & Field and Cross Country runner Brianna Bourne. "No matter your background, participation in both fundraisers was very accessible so that everyone could take on a role, just like while we might not all be on the track for that relay, we're all right next to it, cheering our teammates on and working towards achieving a bigger goal than any one person can accomplish on their own."
The two teams' racial justice work does not end at fundraising. The teams are holding bi-weekly discussion sessions run by the "Williams XC/TF Anti-Racism Working Group."
"A one-off fundraiser is not enough," stated XC and T&F runner Chris Avila. "As a team, we had been talking about racial injustice since I joined in 2017. But, it had never been enough, neither in magnitude nor duration. Since the end of May, a group of teammates who have opted-in to being a part of a "Black Lives Matter" discussion group have been meeting every other week to discuss resources on racism, police violence, environmental justice, and much more."
Racial justice work is something that current team members hope will be a part of the team culture long after they graduate.
"The thing about racial justice is that (unironically) it is not a sprint, rather a marathon," said Young. "We are attempting to actively reevaluate our internal biases, redistribute wealth, and use our platform in the best way possible. However, though we talk about how this is a marathon, that implies that there will be an 'end' to it (the way a marathon is done after 26 miles). So while I know my time as a GCBC rep and track team member will come to an end, I am hoping that these weekly talks will raise the bar for future members to uphold and even surpass."