By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In 2022, the Atlantic Coast Conference participated in the first UNITY Tour, and representatives from each ACC school visited two Alabama cities, Selma and Montgomery, that played prominent roles in the civil rights movement.
The inaugural tour was a collaborative effort that also included the Big Ten and Pac-12, and most ACC schools sent two student-athletes and a staffer to Alabama. From the University of Virginia, academic coordinator Dashan Axson-Lawrence accompanied Josh Rawlings (football) and Carole Miller (women’s basketball).
This year’s UNITY Tour, held this month in Washington, D.C., was an ACC-only event, and the UVA delegation consisted of student-athletes Elijah Gaines (football), Coen King (football), Kailyn Jones (softball), Jada Marsh (track & field) and Max Velazquez (men’s squash), and staffers Georgina Nembhard, Annie Thompson, Jaya Bonner, Joe Kuykendall and Axson-Lawrence.
Over four days (July 9-12), participants visited the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; heard from speakers in panel discussions, including one on gender equity and sports; discussed on-campus issues; attended a WNBA game; toured the U.S. Capitol; and learned about the 1963 March on Washington, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Led by tour guides, the group walked from Black Lives Matter Plaza to the Lincoln Memorial to the MLK Memorial.
“It was a good way to connect with a lot of people,” Gaines said, “and it was just a great experience.”
King said his grandmother texted him to share her memories of the March on Washington, which took place when she was a girl, and that helped him fully immerse himself in that part of the tour.
The ACC launched the UNITY Tours to help educate student-athletes and staffers about racial equity and social justice. In June 2020, the conference created a group called Champions of Racial Equity, and each of the ACC’s 15 schools is represented in C.O.R.E., which aims to promote inclusion, racial equity and social justice through education, partnerships, engagement and advocacy.
Virginia’s C.O.R.E. members include Axson-Lawrence, and he helped select which Cavalier student-athletes would be invited to take part in this year’s tour. He was looking for student-athletes who demonstrated leadership qualities and had…