ST. BONAVENTURE — Between the lines of a basketball court, Jaren English is fearless.
In under a year, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard rose from relative obscurity in the junior college ranks to starter on a top-tier Atlantic 10 team. He thrived under the tutelage of controversial drill sergeant Billy Gillespie at Ranger Community College (Texas). He’s already one of the toughest players to wear a St. Bonaventure uniform in 13 years under coach Mark Schmidt.
And yet, right now, English is … scared.
English, of course, has kept a watchful on the eye on the recent response to police brutality and social injustice, a kind of civil rights powderkeg the country hasn’t seen in half a century. He’s fixated, unnerved. Because English, a young black man, knows that he’s still very much in a position where he has to keep a watchful eye on his own well-being … due solely to his skin color.
“It’s just so many words right now to describe my feelings about what’s going on,” said English, before embarking, uninterrupted, upon a nearly eight-minute powerful proclamation on race and hope in a Zoom call Thursday. “It’s been a trying time for me and my family, especially with my mom being a single mother, raising two black males to be men in a world like this. It’s scary. I see my mom … worried, calling me extra because she’s scared, her staying up (until) 3 a.m., sometimes not going to bed at all.”
BEYOND THAT tough-as-nails exterior is one of the most impressive kids to have played here in recent memory.
In addition to being a glue guy-type player, the Romulus, Mich., native is a great teammate, respectful of everyone around him and polite and forthcoming with the media. In March, English, who carries a 3.66 GPA as a sports media major, became the first Bonnie to make the A-10 All-Academic Team since 2004.
Of course, none of that should matter when it comes receiving the same basic human rights as a white person. But if even a kid of that quality has to worry about even one misstep turning into a tragedy, there’s a problem.
And English wants to help fix it.
“I think the biggest thing we need in this world is we need to educate ourselves before we make assumptions and thoughts,” he said. “I don’t think people really understand right now, and I think they’re starting to see that it’s hard growing up black. It’s hard for single mothers to raise black men in this world.
“That’s why I cherish my mother to the moon and back and I cherish all the black parents for the job that they try to do to keep their sons alive while also raising them to be the best that they can be.”
FROM PRESS row — and the blues and reds inside the Reilly Center — we only see basketball players.
We lauded English after he returned from a head injury to score 16 points in a home win over Fordham. We’re left in awe by the raw physical talent of Osun Osunniyi, by the smooth and savvy of Kyle Lofton. What we don’t see are the 18-to-22-year-old kids who, despite their imposing physical stature, are, at times, forced to live their lives in fear, who are treated or viewed differently for being black.
And if ever there was a time to start taking those things into consideration, that time is now.
“Because you really don’t know,” English noted. “You don’t know the next person’s intentions, what’s going on in somebody’s mind, the hatred they’ve had in their heart for so long. You don’t know who you can trust right now, you don’t know who’s in your corner … it’s just a sad time (where) people need to know that the black community is tired of being wrongfully done for nothing.”
He continued: “We just want to be treated right now. We just want to have the same rights as every other human in this world. We just want to be heard, we just want to be treated fair, we just want everybody to love everybody.
“When I look at people, I see color, because I know I’m different. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my brothers and other people just because of their skin color … it’s okay to be different. This is America; we’re supposed to be what we want in this world, not to be told by a teacher one day that the only way you’ll make it is you play basketball.”
IN A 33-minute interview, English touched on an array of subjects relating to basketball.
He recounted the events of March 12, when Bona had its season pulled out from under it with the cancelation of the A-10 Tournament. He went into detail about how he’s gone about staying in shape during quarantine.
He said he wants to win an A-10 championship and play in the NCAA Tournament before his collegiate career comes to an end. More than that, however, he’d been waiting for the opportunity to say this: He wants, one day, for the world to become a better place.
“We don’t want violence, we don’t want all this hate in the world,” he said. “We’re just tired … of the hate this world has shown us, the disrespect, all the pain — the fathers that have died, the mothers that have died, the brothers that have died from police brutality.
“We just want (people to educate themselves) so that the world can finally see the pain and suffering that not only my ancestors have gone through, but what we’ve gone through ever since I was born, it’s the same. I just hope and pray that we continue to grow as a country and continue to come together for change, because that’s what we need. Everybody needs love, and that’s really what it is.”
TOWARD THE end of his declaration, English, who’s always displayed a maturity beyond his years, thought back to this mother.
Gia Holmes has raised two sons on the outskirts of Detroit on her own. English’s brother, William, is a pitcher in the Los Angeles Angels organization after being taken with the 151st pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.
His mother told him, the color of your skin doesn’t define you.
“And I’ve always lived with that even though many times people have tried to define me by the color of my skin,” English acknowledged. “With my mother telling me that, I think the sky’s the limit for me. I’m going to continue to be the best person I can be and continue to grow into an intelligent, great black man that my mom can be proud of. We just want to make our mom proud; we just want to make the black community proud. And we just want to continue to shed light on how great and how special the black community is.”
English is proud to play at St. Bonaventure. He’s appreciative of the opportunity he received to continue his career at the Division I level. He feels the love that the fans and students have shown him and reflects it.
As such, he’s hoping that everyone will be willing to heed his message:
“If you support us as the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, you’ll support us as black athletes — black, intelligent athletes, and see us as that,” he said. “And love us as much as you love the Bonnies. And that’s really it.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)