Duke's Nolan Smith encouraging conversations with young, Black men in Durham

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Duke basketball assistant coach Nolan Smith has been at the center of change in Durham at various protests and marches, but he's taking it a step further with a friend of his, Derek Rhodes, hosting conversations for young Black men at various places in Durham.

Friday night is the third one, at 6 p.m. at the Rochelle Manor Apartments.

"We're all going to fit the description for the rest of our lives," Smith told a group of young, Black men in Durham. "Whatever you do when you all grow up, when y'all are driving cars, make it home to y'all dads to y'all moms, get home."

Some of the boys Smith talks to are as young as 6.

"Targeting the youth for me is so important because they are our future," Smith said. "For these young men we have the privilege of talking to from 6-14, I want them to be able to begin to see change and hope that they are no longer judged by the color of their skin."

Smith and Rhodes want the youngsters to be able to ask questions, vent, laugh and turn anger into sustainable action.

"We've been really clear that it's important that they talk and they have space to vent," Rhodes said. "Nolan and I are passionate about forming an action plan so that they feel like they can see change in their community as a result of their conversations."

With sports at a standstill, Smith said it has been important to devote energy to improving society.

"I definitely feel like basketball and sports at times can be a distraction from real issues," the former Duke point guard said. "Because right now there is no sports, there is no basketball, obviously with NBA and all that getting ready to return, but right now, this time has been very important for all of us to see where change is needed, where we can put ourselves and help effect change, and it's been a great time that we've had down to jump in the different areas."

Smith and Rhodes said they feel the conversations have been a safe space and educational for themselves as well as the youth.

"People have really opened up," Smith said. "The one that really sticks to me was with a 6-year-old little Black kid who came and spoke and just the fear that he had as a 6-year-old from seeing that video, so it kind of had him asking us questions like why. But then he also said he felt it in the school that he was in that he was treated differently because the color of his skin. This was a 6-year-old, that just hit my heart because no 6-year-old should have to feel that. They shouldn't have to feel differently because of their skin color."

Smith and Rhodes encourage other community leaders to join the conversations.

"I am hopeful, and I think these are conversations that are tough, but they haven't really been had before especially with the age group that we're working with," Rhodes said. "Hearing their passion and ideas for change and also having the support of community leaders right now all across Durham leads me to be really hopeful that we'll give them what they hope for."
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