Richard Lapchick has been called many things: the racial conscience of sport, a human rights leader, a pioneer for racial equality, internationally recognized expert on sports issues. I have always known him as Dad.
Growing up with a father whom the world admires is a remarkable thing. It meant that I had many unique experiences as a child, including interacting with leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali, excursions traveling to South Africa with the NBA’s “Basketball Without Borders” program, and attending speeches by Jesse Jackson. It meant that my everyday was infused with the values of equality and justice.
Many in this world have witnessed the work of my father. Perhaps they have read an article that he wrote, reviewed the Race and Gender Report Card he produces, or heard him captivate an audience with one of his powerful speeches. Most of those people have probably not had the opportunity to sit by his side each day and just observe him. For me, that was my job as a child: to observe my parents and learn from them.
Today, I want to tell you that Richard Lapchick is not just a public figure that preaches his ideals and then walks away from the podium. He infuses them into every breath, every step, every action that he takes. As a young girl he taught me that I could throw the ball as fast as that boy, that I could outscore him in basketball, that I could swim faster if I worked hard enough.
Although society told me that I couldn’t be everything I might have dreamed of as a girl growing up in America, Richard Lapchick made sure that I knew I could. Working side by side with my mother, he made sure I knew that I could achieve anything despite the constrictions society placed on my gender. He advocated for Title IX to be enforced at my school. He encouraged my studies in sciences and math. He wanted his children, and all the children in the world, to grow up knowing that they could achieve anything.
While my parents raised me to have pride in myself, with enough food on the table each day and a roof over my head each night, they also wanted me to understand that not every child had that same childhood. That millions of people around the world are living lives that aren’t as comfortable.
When I was ten years old, my parents took me on what would become one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. We traveled to Delhi, India, to visit family friends who had a beautiful home with a garden that could only be described as breathtaking. What changed me on this trip and reshaped my perception of what my life could be like was what I saw outside of those walls; the children. Thousands of them on the streets; organizing our shoes at the Taj Mahal, banging on the windows of our car, selling trinkets of all kinds while donning tattered clothing, if wearing any clothes at all. Suddenly, my life was different. It could never be the same.
They never pressured me into a life of service. My parents were always supportive of whatever I decided was best for me. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t planting seeds all along. That doesn’t mean they weren’t fully conscious in exposing me to poverty, inequality, and injustice, while simultaneously showing me that change is possible; that these issues can be solved.
I believe that this juxtaposition has given me the knowledge, power, and strength to become the social activist that I am today. That same juxtaposition was provided for my father when he was a child. We know that because of everything we have been given, we have a responsibility to make sure that every woman, every man, and every child has a chance to experience the same wonderful life we’ve been given.
Social justice runs through the veins of my family. Throughout his life, my grandfather made sure that his children, friends, and society knew that he would not stand for inequality. My father grew up believing this was normal. I have grown up believing this was normal. I am proud to have Lapchick in my name.
My father has stood on the shoulders of giants like his father, and I no doubt stand on his shoulders as I continue to carry the torch that so many have lit and carried before my generation. In 2014, my father and I partnered together to create Shut Out Trafficking. Combining his belief in sport to positively influence society and my passion to end human trafficking, we created a program that has already engaged thousands using the sports platform on college campuses throughout the US.
All my life I have watched my parents stand up for what is right. I’ve watched my father take the stage to impassion audiences and heard stories of travels, rallies and dangers from his work towards equality. Today, I have the privilege of sharing the stage with him as we carry forth our fight for a better world as a family.
What is most important to take away from everything that I’ve written is this: being raised by Richard Lapchick meant that I was raised in a world where I perceived it to be normal for all races, genders, and classes to interact and congregate to achieve peace and equality. This is the norm my father has worked his whole life to achieve, and what I was lucky enough to grow up experiencing. Take a moment to imagine that every person might have the opportunity to grow up in this world. Now you are imagining the world that Richard Lapchick has always envisioned.
-Emily Pasnak-Lapchick, Human Rights Activist and Daughter