DALLAS — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban implored people to have honest, uncomfortable conversations about race as a means of helping the country move forward.
Cuban made his comments Tuesday morning at an invitation-only event billed as “Courageous Conversation,” a series of discussions about systemic racism and disparities facing the black community. The Mavs franchise organized and hosted the event in Victory Plaza outside the American Airlines Center, recruiting several prominent local officials to take part.
“I need all of us to really open up and talk to each other, even when it’s difficult,” Cuban said during his brief speech at the beginning of the event. “Even when it’s not something we’re comfortable with, particularly those of you who look like me, the white people. Because it’s hard to discuss race when you’re white.
“The reality is, to be brutally honest, when people talk about white privilege, we get defensive. We all have this mechanism that I call manufactured equivalency to try to protect ourselves. We’ll say, ‘I have a lot of black friends.’ We’ll say, ‘I grew up in a mixed community, so I’m not like that. I can’t possibly be someone who takes advantage of white privilege,’ and manufacture this equivalency.
“It’s incumbent on us to stop doing that, because that doesn’t move us forward when we do that. That’s part of having a courageous conversation.”
Forward Maxi Kleber was the only Mavs player to speak at the event. He participated in a panel discussion regarding the public reaction to the death of George Floyd, a black man whose killing on May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer sparked international outrage, leading to protests throughout the country and the world.
Kleber, a native of Germany who was the lone white member of the five-person panel that also included assistant coaches Jamahl Mosley and Stephen Silas, team general counsel Sekou Lewis, and former player and current executive Cedric Ceballos, said he was further saddened during an emotional team conference call after Floyd’s death. Several of his black Mavs teammates shared stories about being racially profiled by police.
“We have to talk about it,” said Kleber, who attended a vigil for Floyd last week along with Cuban and teammates Jalen Brunson, Justin Jackson and Dwight Powell. “Like Mark said, this is not something where we want to feel comfortable. We want to feel uncomfortable, because for real change, that’s how we have to feel.
“I can’t understand and nobody in this world should tolerate and ignore the fact that there is racism, that there is discrimination because of skin color or beliefs. That’s why it’s so important to be here, to talk about this, to raise awareness.”
Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall, a black woman hired to clean up the franchise’s culture after a sexual harassment scandal involving a departed CEO was brought to light, said she was encouraged by the ongoing protests.
“We have a problem in America that I’m optimistic we’re addressing, when I look at the people who are protesting and the diversity,” Marshall said. “We’re saying that we’re ready for America and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall stressed the need for police reform while speaking during the second panel of the event.
“We need to radically transform the way we do policing in this country and this community,” Jenkins said, adding that he’d recently met virtually with activists who had a list of 10 suggested steps.
Hall, a black woman who was appointed to her position in September 2017, opened her speech by noting that law enforcement was created in America to capture escaped slaves. She said that culture still permeates police departments.
“We have not gotten it right,” Hall said, referring to police departments around the country. “There have been many unarmed black men killed at the hands of law enforcement, and we must own that. We must acknowledge it.
“There are 800,000 law enforcement officers, men and women, in this country and we all watched. We all watched one of our own put a knee on a black man’s neck with no regard for human life, with no empathy, wearing the same uniform we wear, upholding the same laws that we uphold. And it made us all sick to our stomach. So we recognize there is work to do.”
Hall has made improving the diversity of the Dallas Police Department a priority, wanting a unit that reflects the demographics of its community.
“We’re committed to moving this city forward,” Hall said. “We’re committed to acknowledging those things that are broken, and we’re focusing alongside our committee on facing them.
“So we just ask for the grace, we ask for the forgiveness, because we do wholeheartedly apologize for the wrongs that law enforcement has imposed on the African American community and on the Hispanic community over the years. We apologize. But please allow us the grace to fix it and move forward, because we’re committed to that.”