John Calipari urged a crowd of lawmakers from 15 southern states Monday to help people get better educations and jobs as a way to ease racial tensions in the nation.
During a question and answer session after his speech to the Southern Legislative Conference, which is holding its annual gathering in Lexington this week, the University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach was asked by state Rep. Jeff Taylor, D-Hopkinsville, how law enforcement and minority communities could work together to help heal the nation following a string of police shootings and the sniper killing of five Dallas officers.
“When you deal with people on a basis of who they are and their character more than anything else, that’s the beginnings of it,” Calipari said.
He recounted instances when he was with assistant coaches who were followed by security guards in a mall, pulled over by police or asked for their plane ticket while sitting in first class, for no other apparent reason than their race.
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“I’ve been there,” he said. “We have issues ... we’ve got a ways to go on some of this stuff.”
Calipari also expressed sympathy for police officers.
“Right now, I feel for our officers,” he said. “Every officer I see, I look at them and say ‘be safe.’”
In his introduction, Calipari explained what he thought legislators and coaches have in common.
“You all are public servants and that’s what I believe I am,” Calipari said. “We are all blessed to be in the seats we are in because our lives become about others.”
When you deal with people on a basis of who they are and their character more than anything else, that’s the beginnings of it.
John Calipari, UK Men’s Basketball Head Coach
Calipari said the key to thriving in public service is to keep things in perspective.
“It’s never quite as good as it seems and never quite as bad,” Calipari said. “Somewhere in the middle is reality. Keep things in perspective.”
Although Calipari joked of his comparison to lawmakers, several attendees, including Alabama state Rep. Jim Patterson of Huntsville, agreed with his comments.
“You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Patterson said. “There are problems and we’re going to have to work together to fix them, and that means listening to each other. I think that was Coach Calipari’s point.”
Estella Smith, a legislative staff member from Arkansas, said she was inspired by Calipari’s remarks.
“As staff, we have to be impartial and try to understand where someone else is coming from,” Smith said. “It was encouraging to hear him speak on working with others since we have to meet others’ ideas where they are.”
Calipari’s last point of advice for lawmakers was “refuse to lose.”
“Refusing to lose doesn’t mean you win all the time,” Calipari said. “It means being curious of mind, having a lifelong want to learn and always reading to pick up something to help someone.”