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Acho, like Kap, seeks to build important racial bridges originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Programming note: Watch "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" Friday, Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.
In the three-plus years since he was erased from the NFL for being too demonstrative opposing injustice in America, Colin Kaepernick has followed a higher calling. He has since received several national and global awards embracing his purpose and recognizing his sacrifice.
Kaepernick, however, is not alone among former NFL players devoted to the enduring work of seeking equality. Former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho is running the same marathon, in an adjacent lane.
Out of the league since 2015, Acho has transitioned to three new jobs. He’s a media personality, a social-progress facilitator and, in his overarching pursuit, an architect.
Acho, a guest on “Race in America: A Candid Conversation” (seen Friday night at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area), builds social bridges that politely invite everyone -- everyone -- to cross over and take a few moments to really see the other side.
The result is “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” a regular YouTube series begun in June that has attracted millions of viewers. The series spawned a book of the same name, published in November and selling 18,000 copies on the first day.
Kaepernick’s crusade followed the deaths of numerous Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. Acho undertook his mission in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
“Like you and so many other Black and Brown brothers and sisters, I was grieving,” Acho says. “I didn't know if I should scream, if I should cry, if I should weep. But I said, ‘You know, Emmanuel, I cannot continue to be frustrated and complain about something unless I'm trying to provide us some solution.
“So, I really started having conversations as my form of grief. I went to my white brothers and sister's house, close friends, and I said, ‘Hey, why does this keep happening? They said, “Emmanuel, what do you think is the solution?’”
Acho saw ignorance as the root issue. America was designed by early white settlers determined to contain power. Indigenous people were overrun, their land seized. Black people were enslaved, their humanity diminished. It was felt there was no need to learn about the culture of the oppressed, much less restore their dignity.
White supremacy obscured a desire to educate and fostered a system built to dominate.
Comprehending the impact of this, Acho, who grew up in Dallas and attended predominately white schools, urged his white friends to get to know Black and Brown culture. He noticed that when he suggested those of deep faith consider visiting a historically Black church, their response conveyed discomfort.
“That's when the lightbulb went off,” Acho says. “That's when I realized, ‘Wait a second. If these, my dear white brothers and sisters, who I know love me deeply, if they don't know the jurisdiction or lack thereof of black spaces, imagine other white people that don't even have black people that they genuinely can call friend or brother or sister.
“I said it's time we start having some uncomfortable conversations and really breed education and empathy.”
Is there a better way to banish ignorance?
Acho, 30, has since produced 10 episodes. By late November, the book was No. 3 on the New York Times Best Sellers list in the nonfiction category, right behind his friend, actor Matthew McConaughey’s book ‘Greenlights.”
McConaughey has been on Acho’s show. Acho and his series have been featured on “The Oprah Conversation,” a two-part show with Oprah Winfrey, perhaps TV’s most influential personality.
Acho in early November brought his crew to Petaluma, a town of about 60,000 located about 40 miles north of San Francisco, to shoot an episode with the police department, a member of which reached out with an invitation.
The conversation, with about 40 officers in attendance, had some awkward moments, as when Acho asked the four officers on the panel, none of them Black, if they’d ever invited a Black person over for dinner. None had. By the end of the discussion, though, there was at least a veneer of racial conciliation.
While Kaepernick is challenging centuries-old systems rooted in racial oppression, Emmanuel Acho is challenging minds that have been narrow, if not closed, for just as long. They have the same admirable goal, to bring our profoundly imperfect union closer to the objective stated in its foundational documents.
Kaepernick is so much more than what is seen in his Nike ads. Acho is so much more than what is heard in his role as a Fox Sports analyst.
The biggest difference is that one is shining a light on the toxic and deadly effects of racism while the other is asking people to turn a light upon themselves to better see and understand inequality. There is, unfortunately, a place and need for both.
Both constructed a platform through football, but their work now transcends that game and, frankly, any other.