Raptors using platform to champion social change

by Ron Fanfair
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Katherine Allen

If you ask for something and get it, you had better be prepared to do the heavy lifting to justify the confidence shown in you.
After the George Floyd murder in May 2020, John Wiggins – who was then Vice President of Raptors 905, the Toronto Raptors’ National Basketball Association G League affiliate – suggested at a Raptors town hall meeting that the organization could do more to champion social change.
He later sent an e-mail to Raptors Vice-Chairman and President Masai Ujiri pointing out some of the things the organization could do to fight racism and that he could be the person to lead that initiative.
Ujiri obliged and Wiggins was hired for a new role – Vice -President of Organizational Culture & Inclusion for the Raptors.
“The Toronto Raptors organization is in the business of winning championships which we did in 2019,” he said. “But so many people are connected and attached to what the Raptors are and we want to include those fans more in our narrative. Over the years, we have looked at what our fan demographics are, how they connect and what they would like to see the Raptors doing to represent them as members of the community.
“When we look at the Black community, specifically, we are always looking to not just advance the community’s perspective. We have been historically neglected over time and we obviously want to be put in a good position going forward.”
With a large digital reach, Wiggins said that as the only NBA franchise in Canada, it can use its platforms to promote education, teaching and learning.
“We believe that is how we can start to invoke systemic change,” he said. “We use our platform to either speak or take a stand as we did with Black Lives Matter or when our players chose to wear shirts with ‘Every Child Matters’ to show how important the Indigenous community is to the Toronto Raptors and should be to everyone else in the country.
Successful organizations need supportive and focused leaders.
“It starts with Masai, who is a very charismatic and pragmatic leader,” said Wiggins. “He has owned that command not just in our organization and the city, but in our country. When you have him at the helm saying that this work is a priority for us, it echoes through our players whose voices are also heard by many people.”
For Black History Month last February, the Raptors hosted two screenings of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ movie.
“When I saw the trailer for this film, I thought that many people are really not aware of what Marley did from an activism and peace building standpoint,” said Wiggins. “He is known for his music. If you really take a deep dive into that, there is a message which I feel is getting lost. This is an opportune time to learn more about what Marley was trying to say through his songs.”
Katherine Allen is the Raptors Social Impact Manager.
“I did my best to influence change in the marketing roles I was in and in the community,” she said. “But once I saw this job opening, I felt this was an opportunity for me to have a bigger impact. I knew the weight of the Raptors brand coming into this because I have been a lifelong fan of the team. However, I can see the influence we can have and am grateful to have that responsibility.
“When we call, people pick up the phone and when we show up, they do. The potential for impact we can have is truly vast just because of our brand.”

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