Long before James Mcdougal founded Concerned Community 4 Change, served as National Action Network’s central Brooklyn chapter president or campaigned for late NBA Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins’ vindication, the Brooklynite knew a life of social justice awaited him.

“I was born in Bed-Stuy right on Fulton Street, and I remember right after Martin Luther King passed, there were riots and urban communities—Black communities were rising,” said Mcdougal. “And I remember I was really too small to understand. But my dad walked me down the blocks between Kingston and Tompkins, and I didn’t know what’s going on. I’d seen everything boarded up and my dad was explaining to me what happened: they killed a great man who was seeking justice and equality for people of color.”

The moment took a second to digest, but ultimately formed Mcdougal’s understanding of the world. It answered why as kids, he and his brothers used different water fountains in North Carolina or why they couldn’t share a seat with white folks on the bus. So Mcdougal got involved. First with the marches, then with the people’s campaigns.

“And it just grew and grew and grew,” said Mcdougal. “My activities grew [as well as] my need to be a guide for other people. So I took on a lot of roles in that path of civil rights, equal rights and all those
things of equality and activism.”

As an adult, Mcdougal spent years working on a recycling program for the city’s Department of Sanitation before leaving the “Big Apple” to go back to school at Kennesaw State in Georgia. Returning home, he found Brooklyn in desperate need of youth services. Obesity was an issue. So was the shootout across the street at St. Andrew’s Playground. So Mcdougal started Concerned Community 4 Change in 2009.

Initially the organization focused on mentorship and youth obesity prevention, with forums and workshops across the city. But when another incident at St. Andrew’s occured, the rape of a Park’s Department employee in 2010, McDougal knew Concerned Community 4 Change needed to step in.

“We had to stabilize that park,” said Mcdougal. “So that’s when we started the sports side of it. We started the basketball program along with the football program.”

And basketball at St. Andrew’s Playground was synonymous with late NBA Hall of Famer, Connie Hawkins. Soon, Mcdougal became engrossed in the four-time All-Star’s story on how he was robbed of his University of Iowa scholarship and half of his NBA career due to a betting scandal he was wrongfully implicated in. Never accused or directly connected, Hawkins was a generational prospect who lost everything because he was a Black athlete in the 1960s who borrowed and repaid $200 from someone he didn’t know was involved in point-shaving.

So close to home, Hawkins’ story became another opportunity for Mcdougal to right a historic wrong. He began collaborating with the ex-Phoenix Suns player’s grandson, Shawn, whose life mission is to restore his grandfather’s legacy. His reason to entrust Mcdougal with spreading such an important piece of family history is simple.

“I know for a fact he’ll give 110% to the story because he’s passionate about the story,” said Shawn Hawkins. “And anytime you have passion about something, you’re going to get a draw.”

With Shawn Hawkins’ blessing, Mcdougal campaigns for a “measure of justice” from the NBA, University of Iowa and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, whose detectives held the future basketball legend for two weeks during an investigation, denying his rights and pressuring him to falsely claim his involvement in the scandal. Outside of this work, Mcdougal remains close to basketball, juggling his advocacy with his job as an usher at Barclays Center. As for what he thinks of the Brooklyn Nets’ off-season, Mcdougal prefers to speak off-the-record.

Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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