Former NMU Student-Athletes igniting change by empowering others

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Sometimes all it takes is one phone call to ignite change. For former Northern Michigan student-athlete, Kenton Mack, that call came amid the massive social justice movement back in 2020.

“You know, that video surfaced of George Floyd and my grandfather is like 84 years old and probably like on the back end of his life at this point. He just called me and said just maybe five words. He said, “Grandson, I am truly, truly, saddened.” Then, he just broke down crying. So for me, I think that kind of lit a personal fire within me,” said Mack.

Mack called upon two of his closest friends and former teammates on the Northern Michigan Basketball team. The trio formed ‘Athletes Igniting Action.”

“Athletes Igniting Action it’s an athlete empowerment organization. The reason we coined and used the term ’empowerment’ is that it’s all about getting people to take action and not us forcing them to or talking at people. We want to equip people with the tools to become more aware and really encourage and empower them to feel as though whatever it is their passionate about they should speak on, they should take interest in and pursue,” said Mack.

“For Kenton to step up and be the leader and the founder, the overall founder, of all this was huge. You know, once I saw one of my best friends, you know, take action like that, I’m like if he had the braveness and courage to do it, why can’t I?” said Naba Echols, a co-founder of Athletes Igniting Action.

“I was just tired of feeling helpless and feeling like all these horrible things and how the world and society is going these days is out of my control completely. I just wanted to feel like we were doing something that was a positive force in the world,” said Isaiah Johnson, another co-founder of Athletes Igniting Action.

“You know I think we all just came to a census that, you know, I’d rather die trying to make a difference and be able to look my kids, grandkids in the face one day saying ‘Hey, who were you in 2020?‘ someone that tried to do something rather than going with the ‘Ah, it is what it is, or my vote doesn’t matter, my voice doesn’t matter. It’s not changing, it has been this way,’” said Mack.

The idea for ‘Athletes Igniting Action’ was formed while the trio attended Northern Michigan University. The three would have long conversations trying to spark up ideas on how to create change between classes, practice, and games. Their experiences in college help fuel their fire.

“We have seen it up close and personal. We actually know what it’s like to go through it. Maybe it’s not as public as other places. But, we know what we were dealing with when we were going to classes and being the only person of our colors in those classes. I never experience anything like that until I came to Marquette,” said Echols.

The trio returned to campus this past August, not as students but as educators holding a seminar to increase awareness.

“It was really special because you know we put ourselves out there, we did something that we weren’t exactly comfortable with. The feedback that we got from our peers and teammates and other athletes was just really special. You know, people really do care about this,” said Johnson.

“I just want to basically just give a shoutout and thank our athletic director, or our past athletic director, you know with a person in his position just to give us that type of platform, you know, and especially speaking on the calls that we were speaking on, what was going on around the world at the time is pretty huge. Just for him to do that, you know, I’m forever grateful for that,” said Echols referring to NMU Athletic Director, Forrest Karr.

More seminars are in the works including a speaking event with the GLIAC conference on February 24th. The goal: To spread their message and mission to the GLIAC and beyond.

“So, really laying out a blueprint for them to go back into their respective institutions, their own communities and relay a similar message. Find the common ground that we all have, find what we all care about and how to communicate and be leaders in their own communities,” said Mack.

“This is the time we really should keep going, you know? Kenton has been preaching it for a while now. Just because things are dieting down doesn’t mean we have to stop,” said Echols.

“No matter who you are you can make a difference. Like, we’re just three people that played basketball and we decided that we wanted to get involved and be a positive force. No matter how big or small you decide to make your actions, if you try and do something positive that’s a step in the right direction and anybody can, you know, make a huge difference if they really want to,” said Johnson.

“We’re always told by our coaches, administrators that when you’re on campus, people are paying attention to you. By one click of a button, athletes these days have the ability to reach a thousand, five hundred, ten-thousand, a million people in some cases. So I think it’s really directed at athletes but we want to engage people outside of athletics to encourage athletes to do better. I think our long-term vision is to be able to bring in the next wave of people and inspire them to keep going with its” said Mack.

For more information on Athletes Igniting Action and how you can join the cause CLICK HERE.

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