Okogie, 21, has also represented the Timberwolves alongside Karl-Anthony Towns at a press conference hosted by Stephen Jackson to mourn the death of George Floyd. The wing also attended Floyd’s memorial service at North Central University in Minneapolis.
He recently spoke to HoopsHype about what he has learned by getting involved with the movement and ways that basketball fans can support similar efforts. You can watch the entire video streaming via YouTube:
What made you feel like it was the right time to get involved and what has your experience been like out there?
Josh Okogie: I just feel like the whole thing for me is very touching and emotional. I’m actually so emotional that I feel like I have no choice but to act. I was in Georgia when the Ahmaud Arbery situation was going on. A day after I got to Minnesota, George Floyd‘s situation happened and I just couldn’t stay silent anymore. I reached out to some people and they told me that Stephen Jackson was hosting a press conference at City Hall in Minneapolis. I made some connections and I made sure that I was there. I know I didn’t even say anything but I wanted to show my support and show that I was with the cause. I tried to find out other ways to get acclimated with the whole situation so I teamed up with [Minnesota Vikings tight end] Kyle Rudolph this past Friday to help give supplies out to the community. We actually did it at a symbolic location, we did it at a Target that was looted. It was a Target and a Cub Foods and they burned down a building. So we set up shop right there in the center of it all. For me, it was special because it was so much love in that one parking lot. To see all the love spread out from there, it was great. I try to get involved in other ways as well. I’ve been giving out speeches here and there.
What are some of the things that you really want people to hear so we can help amplify that voice for you?
JO: For me, one of my biggest messages is that we’re here to celebrate the life of George Floyd. The way we celebrate is by keeping this march together. We keep it ongoing and we don’t let this momentum flop. At times, we make a noise, and we don’t really do anything with that noise. So while we’re making this noise, I feel like it’s time for us to be demanding stuff from our justice system. I feel like we have to come together. I think we’ve been great as a community coming together in terms of white Americans, Black Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, Asians, you name it. I’ve seen everybody coming together for one common goal. As a basketball player, our team’s locker room encompasses people from different environments, people from different backgrounds, people of different races and religions. We all come together to achieve a common goal. It’s no different than what we should have today. We should all have this common goal so we can all win the game that is life. That’s my whole message out to the people, and I appreciate everybody in the different demographics for showing up and fighting for humans.
I’d love to hear about what the sentiment of “change starts with me” means to you?
JO: The phrase “change starts with me” it means sometimes as individuals, we want change to happen. Everybody wants change to happen. Everybody wants to see things change for the greater good. But change doesn’t start until somebody initializes the change. I feel like if we stand around waiting for somebody to do it, it will never get done. That’s why I love that phrase. Change really does start with me. It is something everybody should say to themselves. I feel like there are more George Floyds out there. I think that my whole goal right now is to dig deep into our Black communities and to help the future George Floyds. I want to put them into positions of power, so they’re not held at their oppression of racial injustice. I want us to teach this generation about financial literacy. I want to see communities groom the next Black presidents, the next Black mayors, the next Black governors, the next Black senators. If we can do that, I think that’ll be the best way to move forward.
You had a chance to speak with Stephen Jackson who was a very close friend to George Floyd. What are some things that he said to you?
JO: He definitely thanked me for showing up. When I heard him talk, the biggest thing that he was saying was that he’s not going to stop until he gets what’s best for his brother. As a community, nobody should stop.
I’d also love to hear about some of the things you were able to see out of teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, who is grieving right now over the loss of his mother but still showed out to the press conference with Stephen Jackson.
JO: It was crazy. A couple days before the event, I reached out to Karl. I was like, what’s up man? It’s okay if you don’t want to come to the press conference. I can represent us all. To see him still show up to that man, it was huge. It was crazy because I can’t imagine being in his shoes and see me step out of my family’s comfort to support another cause. I have the utmost respect for him. It shows you the kind of person he is.
One thing that I’m also interested in discussing is the support that your coach Ryan Saunders has shown as well.
JO: Yeah, Coach has been great. The whole organization top to bottom has been great, from president Gersson Rosas to the last person in the front office, they’ve been great. One thing I would say that I commend them for is opening up the floor for conversation. I remember when this whole first incident happened, we had a Zoom call. They opened the floor for everybody in order to share their grievances and their viewpoints. They themselves want to get a better understanding of how it is to feel as a black person. They were very understanding, and they were willing to listen. It’s been great because it gives you more motivation and more confidence to go out and do these things in the community. All while knowing that they have your back. Even when I did the community outreach, when we gave supplies to the community, Coach Ryan was right there with us in helping out the community. It’s huge, and it shows that they’re on board for this fight.
I think that’s so special, and it’s really wonderful to hear. What are some of those conversations that you’ve had with your team over Zoom?
JO: Everybody’s very frustrated. Everybody’s a little upset. Everybody’s a little down. As long as we have each other and can pick each other up, we can fight for change. I think that’s what helps us to keep going.
I’d love to hear a little bit about some of the other ways that fans can get involved. What are some ways that people who are watching this right now can help amplify your voice and follow whatever your message would be.
JO: I think the biggest thing for anybody is that we have to, as a community and as a whole, start holding everybody accountable. We can’t turn a blind eye to this issue anymore. If we see somebody speaking or saying things that they’re not supposed to say in terms of being racist or unequal, then we have to address it. We have to be able to nip it in the bud. We have to create a fence that separates people into two groups. One side is for everybody and the other is for racism. We have to start to weed people out. We can no longer straddle the fence anymore. As a society, I think we have to hold ourselves to a standard. We have to hold everyone accountable. If something is wrong, then it’s wrong. If something is right, then it’s right.
You’ve been in Minnesota where a lot of this is happening right now. I’d love to hear about any of any sights or sounds that really have stood out for you.
JO: I think the biggest thing I can take away from this whole thing is just what a different time it is. I’m 21. I haven’t been around long, but it’s the first time that I’ve seen everybody, in terms of different races, coming together to fight for Black people. I know when Martin Luther King marched, there were white people and white Americans and different races marching with them. But I go out now and look at some of these protests and there are more white people than Black people. I’ve never seen that before. When I went to the memorial and when Reverend Al Sharpton spoke, he said something to me as well. He even alluded to it. He said: this is a different time. He said back in the day when he used to March, he would see a white counterpart come up to him, use the n-word, and tell him to go home. He was saying that last week he was at the airport talking to somebody, and a young white lady grabbed his suit and told him no justice, no peace. That moment in itself told him that it’s a different time, and it’s the time for a change. The one thing I take away from this is that we have people now that are fighting for us.
I think that more than ever, we’re seeing the basketball community get involved. What has seeing all of that meant for you personally?
JO: I feel like it’s kind of my duty to speak out in terms of issues like these. 100 percent of the time, these people that we’re fighting for are the people who pay for our tickets and come watch our game. The least we could do is, when they’re crying for help, we can use our platform to cry with them and to demand certain things. I think that’s really my take on this. I’m trying to fight for the people who helped me. I’m not only helping them because they’ve helped me, but I’m also part of the Black community. I’m using my platform to try and make a change.