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Oakland A’s Star Tony Kemp Tells Us Why He’s Planting Trees, Messaging with Fans

For the 2021 baseball season, Kemp teamed up with a national organization and pledged to plant 100 trees in urban communities for every stolen base and extra-base hit he recorded.

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Oakland Athletics outfielder Tony Kemp in an undated photo. Kemp partnered with Breaking T to produce his +1 Effect merchandise. A portion of the sale proceeds go to the Players Alliance, a national organization committed to creating an inclusive culture within baseball. Photo courtesy of Tony Kemp.
Oakland Athletics outfielder Tony Kemp in an undated photo. Kemp partnered with Breaking T to produce his +1 Effect merchandise. A portion of the sale proceeds go to the Players Alliance, a national organization committed to creating an inclusive culture within baseball. Photo courtesy of Tony Kemp.

By Nick Marnell, Bay City News Foundation

Oakland A’s infielder Tony Kemp picked a great year to pledge a charitable contribution based upon his on-field performance.

For the 2021 baseball season, Kemp teamed up with a national organization and pledged to plant 100 trees in urban communities for every stolen base and extra-base hit he recorded.

Fortunately for the environment, Kemp, 30, produced the best season of his six-year major league career, compiling 27 extra-base hits and eight stolen bases to go along with a strong .382 on-base percentage. He was also one of only two hitters in the American League (with at least two plate appearances per every regular season game) to walk more often than he struck out.

“I’m glad I got the chance to play and show what I can do,” Kemp said.

The 3,500 trees Kemp donated were just the catalyst as PG&E, one of the team’s corporate sponsors, doubled down on the pledge “to further its support of environment and sustainability awareness,” company representative Lynsey Paulo said. “With PG&E’s donation, there will be 7,000 trees planted as part of this program.”

On Dec. 10, volunteers from the A’s, PG&E, the City of Oakland and various charitable organizations met at Sobrante Park in Oakland and planted 15 trees. Kemp said he will plant trees this spring in his hometown near Nashville.

One of Kemp’s partners in the tree planting venture is Players for the Planet, a national organization founded by former major leaguer Chris Dickerson. Players for the Planet asserts a goal of uniting professional athletes to create positive change for the environment. “Our programs are designed by the players so they can contribute wherever they see a need or opportunity,” Dickerson said.

“I always wanted to do a reforestation project,” Kemp said. Possibly as a giveback for the amount of lumber used in his profession? Kemp chuckled, but said his goal was much greater than replacing a handful of broken bats. “I’ve always cared about the planet. I’ve been an advocate for a recycling project for a long time. This one was a no-brainer.”

Dickerson agreed that Kemp is a committed activist. “Tony has been a tremendous advocate for giving back to the community,” he said.

Addressing systemic racism

Even though he is not a fan of confrontation, in summer 2020 Kemp became one of the most active ballplayers speaking out against racial injustice. Haunted by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and the unfolding civil unrest, Kemp logged onto Twitter on June 5, 2020, and posted to his followers, then numbering more than 40,000: “Let’s be honest. It’s been a tough week. If any of you want to talk or want to be more informed don’t hesitate to ask me.”

That tweet prompted a series of one-on-one direct message conversations with friends, teammates and fans about systemic racism and his own life experiences as a Black man. Kemp then formalized these conversations into a campaign called the +1 Effect.

Explaining the name of his campaign, Kemp said he wanted his perspective to achieve a domino effect, of one positive conversation leading to another, and then another, through honest and respectful dialogue.

“I ask questions. Simple questions, and there is no yelling,” said Kemp, in keeping with his distaste of confrontation. “Those who yell the loudest, what are they trying to accomplish?”

Kemp shared portions of a +1 Effect conversation he had with a suburban white woman in Texas who wanted to do a better job of combating racism but feared that she had no platform.

“Of course, you have a platform and voice,” Kemp told her. “You can always be an influence and inspiration to those around you.” He went on to explain that undoing systemic racism “starts with calling out people for their offhand comments that they may not even realize are racially biased.

“Make it known that you will not tolerate racism or prejudice in any way,” he advised her, and recommended media for her to check out, including “The 13th,” Ava DuVernay’s documentary about racism in the criminal justice system; Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619” podcast on how slavery shapes American culture to this day; and Ibram X. Kendi’s history-driven guide “How to Be Anti-Racist.”

Supporting Black kids

Kemp also gives back through the Players Alliance, an organization of major league ballplayers who work to create an inclusive culture within baseball in order to promote racial equality and provide greater opportunities for the Black community. According to Society for American Baseball Research, since Jackie Robinson broke the color line starting with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the percentage of Black players in the MLB peaked at 18.7% in 1981 and declined to less than 10% by the mid-2000s. In 2016, only 6.7% of major leaguers were Black.

“We’re trying to get Black players to mentor kids who can’t afford equipment to play baseball,” Kemp said. “Black kids look up to us, and we’re trying to help these kids understand that they can succeed in Major League Baseball.”

Kemp, though, is realistic about the slim chances for kids to make it to the big leagues, as Kemp himself fought through early life and career struggles. His parents divorced when he was 12. He was repeatedly optioned to the minor leagues while with the Houston Astros.

Kemp drew on his inner strength and closeness to his family — especially his older brother Corey — to help get him through the rough patches.

Corey told his brother that it was never going to be easy for him to succeed in athletics because Kemp was the little guy.

“They’re always going to be looking at the big guy,” Corey Kemp said. “You’ve got to keep a chip on your shoulder, get back out there and continue to perform.”

The advice worked. “I realized there will always be guys physically stronger than me,” said Kemp, who is 5-feet-6-inches tall and 160 pounds. “But they will never be stronger mentally.”

Understanding that the baseball hopefuls he mentors will need a fallback position should their baseball dreams flame out, Kemp imparted reality to the young athletes when he demonstrated the importance of a strong educational foundation at an Alliance event in Oakland.

“I got out a book and a baseball. I asked the kids to stand on each one and see which one provided more stability,” he said. “They got the message. I told them that getting a degree is always the end goal.”

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Oakland Post: Week of May 15 – 21, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of May May 15 – 21, 2024

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Oakland Post: Week of May 8 – 14, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of May May 8 – 14, 2024

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S.F. Black Leaders Rally to Protest, Discuss ‘Epidemic’ of Racial Slurs Against Black Students in SF Public School System

Parents at the meeting spoke of their children as no longer feeling safe in school because of bullying and discrimination. Parents also said that reported incidents such as racial slurs and intimidation are not dealt with to their satisfaction and feel ignored. 

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Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church. Photo courtesy Third Baptist Church.
Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church. Photo courtesy Third Baptist Church.

By Carla Thomas

San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church hosted a rally and meeting Sunday to discuss hatred toward African American students of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).

Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church, along with leadership from local civil rights groups, the city’s faith-based community and Black community leadership convened at the church.

“There has been an epidemic of racial slurs and mistreatment of Black children in our public schools in the city,” said Brown. “This will not be tolerated.”

According to civil rights advocate Mattie Scott, students from elementary to high school have reported an extraordinary amount of racial slurs directed at them.

“There is a surge of overt racism in the schools, and our children should not be subjected to this,” said Scott. “Students are in school to learn, develop, and grow, not be hated on,” said Scott. “The parents of the children feel they have not received the support necessary to protect their children.”

Attendees were briefed last Friday in a meeting with SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne.

SFUSD states that their policies protect children and they are not at liberty to publicly discuss the issues to protect the children’s privacy.

Parents at the meeting spoke of their children as no longer feeling safe in school because of bullying and discrimination. Parents also said that reported incidents such as racial slurs and intimidation are not dealt with to their satisfaction and feel ignored.

Some parents said they have removed their students from school while other parents and community leaders called on the removal of the SFUSD superintendent, the firing of certain school principals and the need for more supportive school board members.

Community advocates discussed boycotting the schools and creating Freedom Schools led by Black leaders and educators, reassuring parents that their child’s wellbeing and education are the highest priority and youth are not to be disrupted by racism or policies that don’t support them.

Virginia Marshall, chair of the San Francisco NAACP’s education committee, offered encouragement to the parents and students in attendance while also announcing an upcoming May 14 school board meeting to demand accountability over their mistreatment.

“I’m urging anyone that cares about our students to pack the May 14 school board meeting,” said Marshall.

This resource was supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library via California Black Media as part of the Stop the Hate Program. The program is supported by partnership with California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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