Founders' Day 2023
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Brothers of Lafayette Football alumni group establishes endowment to help student-athletes make the most of their Lafayette experience and succeed professionally
By Bryan Hay
Back in fall 2020, during the height of the pandemic and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic murder, a group of African American former Lafayette football players huddled together over Zoom to talk through their feelings and reconnect in a time of isolation and unease.
“That time impacted many people, obviously, across the country and across the world, and it truly impacted us as brothers of color who had graduated roughly around the same time,” recalls Jonathan Starks ’96, an outside linebacker when he was at Lafayette.
Starks says he and his former teammates also expressed concern for current football players of color “who’ve walked through our same shoes.”
“We decided maybe we need to check in on them, you know, thinking back to ourselves,” says Starks, senior director at Centene Corp., a managed care company based in St. Louis. “At that time, we didn’t really have an older generation that was coming to check in on us and see how we were doing when things like this would occur.”
After their virtual gathering, they reached out to the coaching and Department of Athletics staff about creating a support and mentoring organization, a welcoming sanctuary for current and future players to talk through their needs and feelings with older football alums as difficult periods surface, and also how to navigate college life and land meaningful careers.
Out of that genuine concern for their younger football brethren, the alumni group Brothers of Lafayette Football took root.
“It just quickly morphed into what it is today,” Starks says. “We put together calls every month where we talk through a range of issues. It’s a safe space for football players of color, an advisory council of sorts, where they can voice their general concerns, whether they’re about playing football, their education, or any other topic that may come to mind for them. We want it to be encouraging and supportive, a sounding board and a voice for them.”
Brothers of Lafayette Football also has helped current football players of color develop interpersonal skills and learn how to transition from college into successful careers.
“We’ve grown from a group of alums wanting to reconnect, to seeking a way to help others walking on the same path,” Starks says.
Taking the next step, in celebration of Founders’ Day, a time to honor the past, celebrate the present, and invest in the future, Brothers of Lafayette Football created an endowment fund that will provide financial support for student-athletes from traditionally socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds on the Lafayette College football team in perpetuity.
Managed by the head football coach, in partnership with the director of athletics and Brothers of Lafayette Football, the fund is envisioned to support areas such as mentoring and leadership opportunities on and off campus, and internships, externships, Career Tracks, and other areas of focus within Gateway Career Center.
Quincy Miller ’97, president of Boston-based Eastern Bank and a standout wide receiver during his years at Lafayette, says the fund was an offshoot of Brothers of Lafayette Football and is intended to take the conversation past the field and help current players develop leadership skills and plan their careers.
“It’s also meant to help support their general growth as men,” Miller says. “A number of us have this shared lived experience. When I went to Lafayette, my mother was disabled. I never got a fancy internship. But I was able to go on a winter interim trip to Africa with Prof. Rex Ahene, only because a former alumnus of color had donated money to support someone who couldn’t afford to go. For me, personally, that was one of the reasons why I began giving to the school to create this fund.”
Conversations with Nicole Hurd, president, Sherryta Freeman, director of athletics, and John Troxell ’94, head football coach, solidified an understanding of the opportunities available to student-athletes of color.
“The idea is that these funds are completely committed to the experience outside of football, to make sure that the players get the true Lafayette experience and have the ability to take advantage of everything that Lafayette and its network have to offer, without having to search for it,” Miller says.
Harrison Bailey III ’95, also an instrumental part of the alumni group that came together during the pandemic, says the gatherings catalyzed a united desire to give back and clear a path to success for current and future student-athletes of color.
“Through those conversations, we came to recognize that we wanted to do something for the football players of color who were coming through after us, recognizing the things that we didn’t have as students and saying, hey, wouldn’t it have been awesome if we had this or that,” says Bailey, principal at Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pa., who played defensive end at Lafayette.
“Almost in unison, we said that we needed to give back and help current student-athletes of color gain access to opportunities we didn’t have,” he adds. “We met with the head coach and had that conversation. He was on board and said, ‘Yeah, we definitely could use that support.’ It just took on a life of its own at that point.”
Having a formal structure in place to provide that support and awareness is key, Bailey says, noting that he and his teammates of color couldn’t afford to take paid or even unpaid internships because of the need to hold a job to meet expenses.
“This fund offers support to all of the pieces of the puzzle that make the college experience more fruitful,” he adds. “Many of us just couldn’t take advantage of those opportunities. To be frank, we weren’t even aware of a lot of opportunities.”
Bailey, who was inducted into the Maroon Club Hall of Fame in 2022, credits President Hurd for welcoming Brothers of Lafayette Football and its initiatives to start the fund, and Freeman and the coaching staff for providing an environment that allows it to flourish.
Malik Hamm ’23 and Saiku White ’25 are among the student-athletes whose lives have been enriched by the mentorship support from Brothers of Lafayette Football.
A participant and peer leader in the mentoring program since its beginning, Hamm, who’s already transitioning into a Brothers of Lafayette Football mentor himself, says the program provides student-athletes with quickly delivered and freely given advice from established alumni in high-level professional positions.
“It’s been great to have those relationships,” says Hamm, a defensive end who’s been drafted by the USFL and is also training for the NFL draft. “It’s beneficial to us in so many ways.”
White, who will be following in Hamm’s footsteps, says the success of the program is tied to the shared experiences.
“It’s not only being football players for the school, but being Black football players at a predominantly white institution,” says White, a safety. “All of the alumni’s guidance has really taught me how to navigate the environment around me and emphasized the importance of relationships outside of the team. More importantly, they have taught me how to be a leader, not only for myself but for my team. The lessons and guidance they give me during our meetings I am able to use the very next day with my own teammates.”
Freeman is grateful for the transformative support structure created by Brothers of Lafayette Football.
“On behalf of the entire Lafayette community, I want to thank the Brothers of Lafayette Football for their thoughtfulness, vision, and generosity,” she says. “What they’ve created lines up perfectly with our Creating a Championship Culture strategic plan. With their mentorship and philanthropic investment, they will help untold student-athletes of color take full advantage of all opportunities associated with Lafayette’s unique liberal arts education while experiencing Division I competition.”
“It’s not that prior people would have fought us on it,” Bailey says. “But I think the individuals now in leadership at Lafayette have created the perfect situation for something like this to take root and be highly successful. We’re just very thankful for that.”
Thanks to the generosity of many who chose to support initiatives most important to them in connection with Founders’ Day, we are pleased to announce transformational gifts.