First of all, if you’re not following Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Zach Banner on any social media platforms, please do yourself a favor and check him out. You’re going to get some top notch content like this and this. However, more importantly, you’re going to get content from a guy who gets it. And when I say “it”, I mean standing up for what’s right. I wrote an article back in the summer praising Banner’s swift leap to action denouncing DeSean Jackson’s misguided Instagram post. Banner didn’t just stop there and wash his hands of the situation. He continues to be an ally to not only the Jewish community, BLM, etc. but he genuinely loves Pittsburgh and wants it to be the best it possibly can be. How can you not love this guy?
On 2/17, Banner and the director of the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center, Dr. Lauren Apter-Bairnsfather, created and moderated a 2 hour program discussing antisemitism, racism, and how athletes and the community can try to put an end to it. The conversation was split into two different panels.
The initial panel featured local rapper/activist Jasiri X and Rabbi Jeffrey Myers from the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Banner and JX (as Banner called Jasiri), spoke about their lives growing up with little to no affiliation with the Jewish community. As they became adults, they started to study the parallels between being black and those that were Jewish. Both groups experience the same hate so why not come together as allies?
The discussion took an interesting turn as JX publicly apologized for some of his past affiliations. He didn’t get into details but a quick Google search will show he has been friendly with noted antisemite, Louis Farrakhan. Rabbi Myers discussed the process of learning, growing, and admitting to your mistakes in order to become a better person which JX clearly has done. Banner then finished the discussion by saying once COVID was over, everyone was going to go kick it at the Rabbi’s house. He called dibs on the couch.
After a brief intermission, Dr. Apter and Banner returned with two more special guests. Washington Nationals (ugh so sad) first baseman, Josh Bell & Washington Mystics Forward, Alysha Clark. Bell began the conversation by talking about the events that led him to become an ardent activist. Between the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and the murders of George Floyd & Ahmaud Arbery, he could no longer sit back and watch injustice occur. Bell talked about the importance of education and reading in order for change to occur (he has his own book club BTW). He went on to say that hate doesn’t just start naturally. It is typically passed on from generation to generation. If we can teach our kids by educating them on different races & religions, we can attempt to make the world a better place.
Clark talked about playing professional basketball in Israel and how quickly she was accepted as an American in Israel. Once her teammates found out she had a Jewish grandfather, they pushed her to make Aliyah and become an Israeli citizen. She talked about the important work the WNBA does each and every day for social justice and how we can all learn something from one another in order to grow.
Back to Banner
Zach Banner isn’t Jewish. He doesn’t have a long lost Jewish relative anywhere in his bloodline. He’s simply a mensch. He has these conversations and fights for the Jewish community because he truly wants to make the world a better place. He understands hate is only going to bring us down as a human race so we need to stand together in order to make it anywhere. The Jewish community, Pittsburgh, and the world should be truly honored to know this man and the work he’s doing. Whatever good Banner is doing, I will be right behind him. (You probably won’t see me because he’s a massive human being).
Josh Bell’s book club recommendations:
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The B3 Foundation (Zach Banner’s foundation)
1Hood (Jasiri X’s Foundation)
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