Black Lacrosse Alliance x PLL – Q&A with Jules Heningburg
The Premier Lacrosse League and PLL Assists support the Black Lacrosse Alliance in its efforts to promote diversity, inclusiveness and unity in the sport of lacrosse. The BLA, which was founded in July 2020 and consists of a number of black players in the sport, looks to continue its growth as we enter the new calendar year. We caught up with BLA co-founder and star Redwoods attackman to learn more about the Black Lacrosse Alliance and its importance to the sport.
Mathieu: For those who are not as familiar with the Black Lacrosse Alliance, what do you want the lacrosse world to know about the work you’re doing?
Heningburg: The Black Lacrosse Alliance is the collective group of black professional players, spanning multiple leagues across Lacrosse. What first began as conversations in response to the racial tensions and civil rights movement we have seen over the past year, became a group of players committed to taking more ownership and responsibility in the role we play in all of it. First and foremost, we believe representation matters. Seeing professional players that look like you as a young black player gives the next generation hope. We are investing time into 3 pillars, including Culture & Education, Grassroots, and Professional Game Development. If we can create a more inclusive culture, spread the game and represent it at the highest level, we believe we can look back in the next decade and have made significant improvements to the lives of many young players and the sport.
Mathieu: You and your fellow black lacrosse players have undoubtedly had to deal with a lot over your careers. With everything that has happened in 2020, what was it about the current social climate that made this the right moment for you all to mobilize the way that you have?
Heningburg: There was a collection of things that led to us coming together. There is a risk that comes with speaking up and using your voice including losing teammates, being traded, and even pushed out of playing. However, there is also strength in numbers, something that has not always existed in lacrosse when it comes to black players. Today, we are proud to say we saw 15+ athletes on active rosters spanning both outdoor leagues. The ability to lean on each other in hard times, and feel confident that we are standing for what is right, really allowed us to mobilize the way we have.
Mathieu: You’re one of the league’s most exciting young players. What inspired you, personally, to step into such a visible and important activist role?
Heningburg: A lot of my inspiration comes from my family, and from a responsibility standpoint to do what I know is right. When you have a perspective others around you are unaware of or never hear, you are responsible to speak to that. I have heard "You are my only black friend" more times than I can count. My grandfather was a leader in civil rights throughout New Jersey and the country, and I was raised in a household where it was a prevalent topic and something that meant a lot to my family. Speaking up and sharing my perspective was the right thing to do, and backing down from that responsibility would be doing a genuine disservice to the people I love and to the sport. We need to do more, consistently, to be the leaders that players and families across the nation need us to be.
Mathieu: As is the case in all sports, you guys must deal with some negativity from haters. How do you all deal with the noise?
Heningburg: Dealing with the noise can be difficult at times. Some of the things we see on social media are disheartening, specifically in lacrosse. It's not surprising at all given the experiences of our players and many other black players across the game, but it still hurts the same amount. It's important to ignore the social media comments as much as possible, and trust that there are more people who believe in a more inclusive future than might not. People attempt to tie politics into what we stand for and create division. It's not a political idea to believe in the equal opportunity to play the sport, and for players, coaches, and fans to be included in a culture that accepts everyone regardless of their background and skin colors.
Mathieu: With all of the support that BLA is already receiving from all over North America, can the fans expect to see some merch dropped in 2021?
Heningburg: We have been working hard to establish a strong foundation so that we can continue to build into the future. We know that merch is something that can demonstrate strong unity and can make a big impact to people who believe in our mission. Watch out for a potential drop coming this month!
Follow the Black Lacrosse Alliance on Instagram
Catch Jules on the Unbuckled Chinstrap Podcast