Student-athletes from Niagara University’s basketball program are sharing stories and history with local students as part of a collaborative effort of the university’s Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement, Department of Athletics, and College of Education. Inspired by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s “Time Out for Black Lives” program, the student-athletes are reading books that celebrate Black culture, music, and history in videos that will be shared with students in the Niagara Falls School District. A unique aspect to Niagara’s program is the focus on local Black history, as featured in the public art initiative NF Murals.

Shandon Brown, Nick MacDonald, Tahjae Hill, and Jordan Cintron of the men’s basketball team; Saige Glover, Maddy Yelle, Angel Parker, and Valentina Pepic of the women’s basketball team; and Carter Caplan, director of basketball operations, participated in the project, which was initiated by the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University’s president. The books included “Martin’s Big Words,” “Henry’s Freedom Box,” “Rosa,” and “You Go Girl!: A Letter to Young Queens,” which was written by Kara Oliver, director of strategic initiatives for the Institute for Civic Engagement. Readers were filmed in front of a backdrop that highlighted people and movements at the forefront of social justice and freedom in the Niagara region, as depicted in NF Murals on Main Street in Niagara Falls.

"This project provides our student-athletes an opportunity to model the importance of literacy while engaging and educating the children in the City of Niagara Falls about the rich history of Black culture and social justice efforts in our area,” said Father Maher. “As a Catholic and Vincentian institution, Niagara University has a special commitment to enhance diversity, inclusion, and belonging in our community and beyond, and we are pleased to be able to serve the young people of our community in this important way.”

The videos will be made available to teachers in the Niagara Falls School District and other community organizations. Resources such as community connections, which describe the murals that are featured in the videos, and read-alouds, which offer links and information about the stories, the student-athletes, and the community connections, will help to guide teachers in discussion and activities.

“We are proud to be part of the MAAC reading program,” said Patricia Wrobel, executive director of the Levesque Institute. “Dr. Elizabeth Yarussi Falzone, the institute's literacy outreach/TESOL clinician, and Brittany DePietro, IMPACT program manager, developed this high-quality resource for our local school districts and organizations to expand the knowledge of Black history and culture in the Niagara Region. Their collaborative efforts with the athletics department and the College of Education will give our student-athletes the opportunity to both educate and inspire the children in our community."

Nick MacDonald, a sophomore sport management major from Buffalo, N.Y, said he enjoyed being part of the program because he knew he “was making a positive difference in other people’s lives.” The forward/guard read “March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World,” a moving account of the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, as seen through the eyes of his older sister, Christine King Farris. His book was paired with a mural of the Black Lives Matter movement, created by artists Ashley Kay and Tyshaun Tyson.

“Our basketball programs have been engaged with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on campus and within the MAAC conference for several months,” said Simon Gray, Niagara University director of athletics. “I am very proud of the leadership roles that our student-athletes and coaches have taken in these endeavors. In addition to their service to the community, our student-athletes are achieving at record levels in academics while maintaining their commitment to competitive excellence. This collaborative venture with the College of Education and the Levesque Institute is evidence of the powerful impact that a campus can have within the larger community."  

“The Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement has really enhanced Niagara University’s response to the MAAC 'Time Out for Black Lives' initiative by providing community connections and teaching resources to accompany the read-alouds from our athletes,” said Dr. Chandra Foote, dean and professor of education. “Their efforts will help teachers in our partner schools effectively utilize the materials with students in face-to-face, hybrid, and remote classrooms.” 

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