Sparks’ new social justice initiative focuses on voting and immigration reform

Voting is paramount for Candace Parker, in part because the L.A. Sparks’ star is an avid reader and history buff.

“I’m a big reader and I’m huge into history, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and World War II, in the 1940s,” Parker said by phone. “And just through reading, you realize people were dying to vote. It’s so important for us to understand how important voting is and how much people fought for that to be a choice of ours.”

With input like that from across the organization, the Sparks organization created a new outreach initiative they’re calling Change Has No Offseason, a reference to the fact that pursuing a goal – whether it’s a championship or social justice reform – doesn’t stop when a season does.

“We’re trying to think about the mindset of the athletes and what we actually represent,” said Danita Johnson, the Sparks’ president and COO. “How, in order for us to create changes in our game on the court, we’ve gotta work hard every day, and in order for us to make change to society, we have to work hard every single day.”

In an effort to combat racism and sexism, that work also will include a focus on voter registration and education, as well as immigration reform, as part of the latest prong in a growing list of community outreach efforts by the team.

Johnson said players were more involved than usual in the launch of this latest initiative, which will be heavy on education and reliant on the expertise of organizations with history working on the issues.

Parker said it’s imperative for WNBA players, the majority of whom are Black, to get involved in tangible ways.

“We first heard about this shortly after everything happened at the end of May and in early June, and I think our major thing was just an action point,” Parker said. “There’s a lot of conversation that’s happening out there, and its great to have conversation, but what are we gonna do? What are our steps toward that?

“I think it’s really important for us, being part of the WNBA, which is one of the longest-(running) women’s sports leagues that’s ever been in America … to really promote change and to let people know that we hear them and we’re with ’em.”

And, yes, part of that will action plan will be to inspire voter participation.

“Holding our government accountable, and local government especially, and having everybody be registered and having an opportunity,” Parker said. “I think LeBron James has done an amazing job of bringing awareness to the amount of things that go into voter suppression, how it isn’t by accident that there’s one poll on this side of town with a huge, long line and there’s not on the other side of town.

“It’s so important for us to understand that we have to vote and that’s something that a lot of people have died for.”

The Sparks’ efforts won’t be partisan, Johnson stressed.

“It’s about creating space for people to be educated in something that maybe they’re not as educated on or want to learn more on,” said Johnson, who also oversees the team’s evolving efforts to promote mental health and wellness, police and youth relations and a variety of women’s initiatives.

Last year, the organization introduced the Spark the True You campaign, the largest community partnership in WNBA history – a $900,000 effort to promote services and treatment related to mental illness and health issues for military women and their families that’s sponsored by a trio of government mental health organizations.

The newest social justice pillar of the Sparks’ community outreach efforts is meant to serve, in name and in mission, as a reminder that there is no offseason for such critical work.