Former NFL tight end Martellus Bennett is on a mission to inspire young Black boys to dream beyond the narrative they see of themselves in media.
Following the shooting deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling more than two years ago, Bennett penned a poem titled “Dear Black Boy” that specifically addressed young Black kids today who are unable to escape the images of trauma that is imposed on them.
“I just felt like I needed to write something for the Black kids who had to see or witness these things,” Bennett told The Root. “I thought about myself as a kid and the things that [kids today] see because of the way media is consumed. We didn’t have access to as many things that were happening in the world. Now, you see all these things.”
In March, Bennett will turn the “Dear Black Boy” poem that he penned in July 2016 into a book that will be published by his multi-media company, the Imagination Agency. According to The Root, the book will encourage young Black boys to “dare, plan, work, and most essentially, dream clear of dictates, expectations or stereotypes.”
“That’s the whole idea; we have to give Black boys the space to dream and allow them to dream the dreams they want and not have society dream the dreams for them,” Bennett adds. “The NFL is 65 percent Black, the NBA is 75 percent Black, the tech industry is seven percent Black. Those numbers are so skewed that it’s just crazy.”
Bennett also hopes that the release of his book will encourage more Black boys to improve their reading level, as well as encourage more diversity in the literature industry.
“There’s no one to champion creativity for Black youth as far as films and animation and there’s nothing wrong with focusing on it,” the 31-year-old says in response to the criticism he’s faced for focusing specifically on Black youth. “I feel like kids of color should have something that belongs to them. Black kids don’t get a lot of sci-fi, don’t get a lot of fiction, and the issue with that is that Black kids don’t get escapism. All the stuff that we get is reality right outside our doors.”
In 2014, Bennett founded his LA-based agency with a specific focus on apps, books, films, animation, toys, graphic novels and education for Black youth. This March, as part of his book launch, Bennett and his company will partner on a campaign called “Dear Black Boy, Now What?” with the sports outlet The Players’ Tribune. Through this partnership, The Players’ Tribune will feature letters of inspiration from influential Black voices with the prompt, “Dear Black Boy…”
Bennett explains that the idea behind the prompt is like, “OK, you played ball, the game is over, so now what? Now, what are you going to do? What else do you have to offer the world?”
He says that while there isn’t anything wrong with sports, he hopes that his platform will inspire people to realize that “there’s so much more to us than just sports.”