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Attendees of a unity march put on by the Texas State Athletics Department walk across the San Marcos Fish Hatchery, Friday, June 10, 2020, outside of the J.C. Kellam Administration Building. Officers from the University Police Department as well as the San Marcos Police Department were present and marched alongside athletes.

In response to racial tensions across the nation, Texas State formed the Dr. Johnny E. Brown Committee on Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) to ensure Athletics is a safe space for people from all walks of life.

The committee was named in recognition of Brown, who was the first Black student-athlete at Southwest Texas State. He played basketball at SWT from 1966-68 and received his bachelor’s degree in education from the university in 1970. Since then, Brown has served as the superintendent of four school districts and has been active in civil rights organizations across the nation.

Based on a Sept. 1 statement from Texas State, the committee is “charged with developing actionable recommendations to foster an inclusive culture in Texas State Athletics.”

Leading the committee is Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director of Internal Operations Tracy Shoemake as the staff chair, junior volleyball player Kenedi Rutherford as the student-athlete chair and football's inside linebacker coach/co-defensive coordinator Archie McDaniel as the coach chair. The three serve as the overarching chairs of the organization.

The rest of C.O.R.E. is divided into three subcommittees: Voter Registration, Education and Training and Community Policing and Relations. Each has its own staff chair and student-athlete chair.

On June 4, the Sun Belt Conference released a statement saying it is “committed to working with our communities to create real and transformative change.”

“The conference got very serious about [racial equality] this summer,” Shoemake said. “We had a meeting with the conference office and a bunch of people from Texas State...from that meeting, [C.O.R.E.] was formed.”

Shoemake says while it also has the interests of the Athletics staff in mind, the primary function of the committee is to protect student-athletes.

“I wanted this committee to be student-athlete driven,” Shoemake said. “They have an opportunity to have a voice and have the ability to engage in the conversation and feel like it wasn’t shot down. We’re not telling them what to do, we’re asking them what they want to do."

One of the voter registration sub-committee tasks was getting student-athletes and staff registered to vote. To achieve that goal, it took part in the Oct. 5 drive-in voter registration, which helped register hundreds of voters before the deadline.

For Rutherford, a member of the Voter Registration sub-committee, local elections are where people will be directly affected.

“We are pushing people to vote and educating people on the [candidates] on their ballot,” Rutherford said. “I think it’s important [to vote], especially locally. Everything branches up.”

The Education and Training subcommittee has focused on providing resources and information throughout Athletics to have conversations about racism.

The student-athlete chair of the Education and Training sub-committee, sophomore softball pitcher Brooke Blackwell, says conversations about race and racism are key to promoting positive change.

“The more often you have [conversations about racism], the less uncomfortable they’re going to be,” Blackwell said. “It’s gonna have to start with someone being brave, to come forward, and essentially open up that opportunity for others. This is a very, very touchy subject in today’s world. I feel a lot of people are scared to really put their voice out there.

Blackwell, a white woman, describes her position as a “learning role.”

“I don’t face the same injustices that some of my fellow African American student-athletes and my teammates actually do,” Blackwell said. “Being able to sit back and actually hear about all the different things that maybe I didn’t necessarily think of that go on with African-Americans in this country...I like to listen to what other people have to say. I want to learn as much as I can.”

The Community Policing and Relations sub-committee hopes to "create initiatives to raise diversity awareness within San Marcos and Hays County." Led by its student-athlete chair, senior football linebacker Gavin Graham, the sub-committee is taking on a project to highlight minority-owned businesses from San Antonio to Austin.

“We’re just trying to help out minorities [who are] trying to venture into entrepreneurism whether they’re established or they’re in the starting process of it," Graham said. "We think it’s a great opportunity. Between Austin and San Antonio, there are many options to help people and go ahead and help people promote their businesses, start their businesses or bring in more customers.”

Shoemake says she understands that many of her student-athletes are affected by racism and the recent deaths of Black people at the hands of police. She hopes the sub-committee can help ease some of the tension between the community and police.

"A lot of our student-athletes are hurting right now," Shoemake said. "They’ve had some bad experiences. We need to be there to support them and take care of them as people.”

One of those hurt is Graham, who says this time of racial injustice is nothing new.

“It’s painful to see that we’re still in this situation,” Graham said. “You look from the Civil Rights movement, to even the struggles before that, and still to this day, it’s kind of upsetting to think that we’re still fighting the same fight. It’s not asking for more [rights] than others, but simply equality, and to know that your life matters as much as theirs, and you don’t have a target on your back.”

Rutherford and Graham say they hope to be viewed as more than athletes. Sports are what they love, and that could change one day. But their race will always remain the same.

McDaniel says the committee is committed to its goals despite the difficulties ahead.

“We’re talking about trying to change people’s hearts,” McDaniel said. “That can be a long tedious process. Here in 2020, we’re still dealing with things that were going on hundreds of years ago...There’s gonna be people who like what you’re doing; there’s going to be people who don’t like what you’re doing. I’m a tunnel vision guy, so when I have my mindset on trying to accomplish something, there’s nothing or no one that can get me off track.”

With C.O.R.E. still in its early stages, Shoemake has taken the opportunity to educate herself in hopes that it will become more impactful.

“From the committee itself, I’ve learned a lot,” Shoemake said. “Learning about people, getting great ideas from them, being energized by them. It’s just a great group to work with. I’ve been reading and learning and watching. I’ve been doing this for a long time...and I still like to learn something new every day...I just really want [C.O.R.E.] to grow and make a difference.”

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