'This is bigger than me': Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young delivers unifying message in Norman
NORMAN — Trae Young stepped to the microphone to address an amphitheater dotted with protesters. Some were his family and friends, but those who weren’t recognized the hometown star even through his black bandana and sunglasses.
Young, admittedly out of his comfort zone, clutched his hands to his chest.
“I’m not used to doing this,” he said. “I’m not very open about what I see, or the things that go on in this world very often.”
But the Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard and former Sooner needed to speak.
“Even though I’m 21 years old, I feel that it was necessary,” Young told the crowd. “This is bigger than me.”
Young, as fellow NBA players have done across the country, was front and center Monday in a peaceful protest condemning racial injustice. Young’s speech — that ended with “no justice, no peace” — came one week after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Unity was the theme of Young’s message.
"I know this country is in a messed up place right now,” he said. “For me, I just think it's important that we all stick together and we stand up for what's right… It's all of us coming together and doing this as a collective unit. I feel like justice will be served and changes will be made if we all come together. This is us doing it. This is the first step.”
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Young’s voice grew steadier as he neared the end of his two-minute speech.
“Imagine a kid that’s playing in front of thousands of people, but he’s still nervous to get on stage,” said Rayford Young, Trae’s dad.
Trae Young largely went unnoticed before climbing the stage at Andrews Park in downtown Norman. He sat on the third row of the stone amphitheater benches with his family.
Young held a “Black Lives Matter” sign. And on the back: “God didn’t give us this breath for YOU to take it away!”
Young listened for an hour as rally organizers and Norman leaders spoke.
“Obviously I know I’m gonna get recognized, I know people are going to come up to me,” Young said after his speech. “But it’s not about me … I’m not a celebrity. I’m here to be a leader. I’m here to be supportive. I’m here to make change.”
Young, whose dad is black and whose mom is white, was heartened by the diverse crowd at the rally.
“I grew up just like another black kid,” he said. “I knew how I was perceived and looked at in society. My dad raised me to understand that.”
Young has been home in Norman ever since NBA teams gave players permission to leave their professional markets.
Caitlyn Young, a strategic communications junior at TCU, inspired her brother to speak Monday afternoon. She’s the more confident activist.
Caitlyn said she brought three cases of racial discrimination against professors last semester. She’s interning with Fort Worth ISD to promote equity in the school system.
Caitlyn and Trae are close enough to have hard conversations with each other. Because her brother has a national platform, Caitlyn doesn’t shy away from being critical of how Trae uses it.
But she was proud of Trae on Monday. So was Rayford, and dozens more in the Norman community who are longing for change.
“As a dad, that’s awesome for me to see,” Rayford said. “The basketball’s one thing, but that doesn’t last forever. Who you are and what you stand for lasts forever.”