Araion Bradshaw: Driving change off the court, leading the way on it

Women’s basketball senior guard Araion Bradshaw (left) has been applauded by head coach Shauna Green (right) as a “coach on the floor,” and her leadership has translated off the court in her social justice initiative, Athletes Driving Change. Photo courtesy of Christian Cubacub, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

For any athlete to take a stand on social justice issues can be tricky waters. Dayton Flyers women’s basketball redshirt senior guard Araion Bradshaw experienced some trepidation when she decided to start Athletes Driving Change, but said it’s not a risk when it’s the right thing to do.

“I know that I’m doing something for the right reasons,” Bradshaw said. “I care about it, I’m passionate about it, and I’m going to continue to push it. And it’s not just spur of the moment, I’m passionate about it beyond just my college experience. (There was) a little trepidation in the beginning, but it was over when I got to look and see the impact not just I can have, but all my teammates, student-athletes in the A10, and coaches (can have).”

The initial prompting for Bradshaw to create change came when the public and provocative killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ken., caused a wave of social justice movements to rise to the forefront of the minds of Americans and the world, even while a global pandemic ravaged on.

With Black Lives Matter taking the forefront, the United States-wide (and even worldwide) protests started a movement which was quickly picked up by athletes, teams and leagues throughout college and professional sports. When Big East coaches started Coaches for Change, the wave began to crest for Bradshaw, who didn’t know what to do before seeing the reaction from the Big East coaches. She then reached out to the coaches from Connecticut, Marquette, Villanova and Providence to ask for their motives and what they were going for.

 “At the end of the day, I felt like it was one of those situations where, as an athlete, you want to do something but don’t know what to do because our stage is entertainment,” Bradshaw said. “I just felt like (starting Athletes Driving Change) was something that needed to be done, and I felt like there was an avenue that needed to be explored.”

Working with the A10 

In the process of talking to the Atlantic 10 conference and working with the A10 Commission for Diversity and Inclusion, Bradshaw reached out to one player from each team in the conference – she named Taya Robinson from VCU, Gabby Smalls from Saint Josephs and Jasmine Whitney and Neila Luma from George Washington in her interview with Flyer News – to go through what she had in mind. She also has worked with Flyer teammate Kyla Whitehead, a junior forward at UD, who was “super passionate” and “willing to help.”

Part of the change Bradshaw (center, taking a shot) has been a part of includes the Flyers wearing warm-up shirts with the names of people of color who have created change in the U.S. or were killed because of police brutality. Photo courtesy of Christian Cubacub, Flyer News.

This group of players leading Athletes Driving Change has created a daily reminder for Bradshaw, as teams are “consistently making a statement,” which has helped her keep a focus on her play on the court and the work she is doing off of it.

“It’s something that’s always in my mind, how, in any way, I can impact the world for my little sisters,” said Bradshaw, who has four sisters, three of which are younger than her. “I know that no matter if they play sports or not, the stuff that we do with Athletes Driving Change and the A10 Commission for Diversity and Inclusion will impact college campuses at the end of the day. That will not only help my little sisters but their peers… To me, it’s easy to stay motivated when I can think about them and I can make the world a better place for them.”

Doing the change

The work which Bradshaw and Athletes Driving Change are doing has included hosting a diversity and inclusion game during the season which has helped to promote social justice and amplify the message which is said in the mission statement of the organization.

“The mission of Athletes Driving Change is to provide a unified and inclusive platform across college campuses in the Atlantic-10 conference in an effort to move our communities closer to equality,” writes Bradshaw on the website. “We recognize the ongoing history of oppression is deeply rooted and interwoven in the very foundation of American society, laws, and culture. Athletes Driving Change will use the platform of college athletics to provide student athletes the ability to cultivate, inspire, and materialize a new history where all people are treated equally.

“We are committed to promoting change through action amongst our college communities with programs focused on education, through research and teaching, and service, through collaboration and engagement.”

The action of Athletes Driving Change has included work with local Boys’ and Girls’ clubs, donating basketball equipment for local kids, making virtual visits to elementary schools, giving books for students and each A10 school taking one home game in February to host a game to amplify the message of their work.

“It’s super cool to see people get on board and do something for the greater good and help the community that they’re in,” Bradshaw said. “It’s been super cool to see that recently, getting out there. Teams are running with it, they’re promoting it, it’s been all over my social media, it’s exciting to see that. I’m looking forward to what we can do next year once the world opens up a little bit more.”

The future shaped by the past

Moving forward, Bradshaw hopes to continue to amplify the voices of those who want to be heard of things that matter to them, and she is eager to get more hands-on once COVID-19 dissipates. Bradshaw also hopes to see guest speakers on college campuses and have campus police come in to talk and continue to educate an age group which is in a place to be educated.

Personally, Bradshaw hopes to continue to grow everyday over the next year, with a lot of things in the past year pushing her to impact her community and build relationships. She has also been shaped by the experiences she has lived through in her life.

“I’ve always been a part of a minority population,” Bradshaw said. “Whether that’s school or sports, I’ve always been the minority of the group. I think that has shaped me in so many ways because not only did I learn about relating to people outside of the way you look. I learned how to talk to people, how to have genuine conversations, how to care about who somebody is, and I think that’s a lot of what Athletes Driving Change is.”

The commonality that “we’re all people” is something that Bradshaw also learned from an early age, being one of only five black people to graduate from Tabor Academy, a boarding school in Marion, Mass., where she graduated from in 2016..

Bradshaw’s father, Eric, is a former police officer who has also helped shape who she is today. 

“I’ve seen him impact the community in so many different ways,” Bradshaw said. “He’s like my real-life superhero. Getting to watch him every day, the things that he does, I mean, he would bend over backwards for people, and he always does it just to help. That has always stuck with me, doing anything I can to help somebody else whether it takes every last bit of energy out of me or not. If I can help somebody else, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Leadership on the court

The leadership Bradshaw has shown in Athletes Driving Change has translated into her new role for the Flyers women’s basketball team this season. While the leaders of the team last year were peers who were the same age as her, Bradshaw now leads a younger team alongside fellow seniors Erin Whalen and Jenna Giacone. 

Bradshaw, center of team huddle before Jan. 14 game against Davidson, has the “poise that we need,” according to head coach Shauna Green. Photo courtesy of Christian Cubacub, Flyer News.

“She’s just the coach on the floor,” Green said after the Flyers’ 67-62 win over VCU on Feb. 14, when Bradshaw scored 5 points, got 5 rebounds and dished out 9 assists. “And we need her out there… She just has a poise to her that we need, and she keeps everyone out there (on the court) calm. She runs our team, and then she defends like hell. She defends, and works her butt off every single second. I mean, she just plays so hard. She sets the tone for our entire team with how hard she plays.”

The Flyers are currently 12-2 overall and first in the A10 at 11-1, with one more regular season game against Davidson on the road Sunday before the A10 Tournament in Richmond, Va., March 10-14.

At the end of the day…

Bradshaw has also resolved that it’s not a “one-person show,” but that people need to continue working together to change things that are “embedded in our culture” by having conversations and being vulnerable.

To Bradshaw, Athletes Driving Change provides a platform for people to be heard and to make a change. 

“Athletes Driving Change is just a platform for people to be themselves in terms of the things that they feel, the things they would like to see change about,” Bradshaw said. “And then also being able to come together collectively and figure out how to make those changes, and I think it’s very important.”

Bradshaw surmises that at the end of the day, it’s “all about equality” and “commonality before differences.” In what Bradshaw called a whirlwind year of 2020 – and now into 2021 – she has gained motivation to spread a message of change to decades of social injustice.

“We want to highlight the fact that it’s all about equality,” Bradshaw said. “It’s all about looking at somebody and seeing the things that you have in common before you see the differences… It’s all about just providing a platform to move towards equality and justice for all people. And any way that we can do that, we’re open to it and pushing to make change no matter how difficult and uncomfortable that may be.”

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