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Advocacy and empowerment shine through for the New York Liberty

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BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 1 : Keia Clarke speaks at a Women’s Empowerment Panel and networking session presented by Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield before the New York Liberty game against the Indiana Fever on June 1, 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by David L. Nemec)
Photos by David L. Nemec

Take it from New York Liberty CEO, Keia Clarke:

“It’s OK to keep score. It’s not vain, it’s not patting yourself on the back. It’s you knowing who you are and remembering what you’ve done.”

On June 1, the New York Liberty hosted a women’s empowerment panel prior to the start of their game (and win) against the Indiana Fever . The panel was titled “Own Your Advocacy” and featured Liberty CEO, Keia Clarke, Danielle Du Toit, President of Seat Geek, and Deborah Ruggiero, Clinical Programs Manager of Empire BlueCross BlueShield. Liberty in arena host, Jess Sims, moderated the discussion for the fans at the Barclays Center.

David L. Nemec

For the Liberty organization, this is their second year in Brooklyn and second year back in New York City after previous ownership moved them to Westchester County for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Prior to that, they spend years at Madison Square Garden and had one of the best attendance figures in the league. The players had to grin and bear it as they played in a facility that wasn’t up to par for professional sports and for ownership that didn’t prioritize them or their needs. Thanks to the advocacy of various partners in the league and inner strength of the Liberty players, the team changed hands and came back to NYC. Clarke spoke about the return home in the context of advocating for the WNBA and women’s sports in general, calling it a “beacon of light” and a ray of hope for how women’s sports are treated. The advocacy from Clarke, the players, and the community got the Liberty back home and in an environment where they are treated as equal partners.

Recent WNBA history proves Clarke’s point to be even more prescient. WNBA playoff games have been moved out of their home arenas in favor of other events, It’s been an issue that has made the game more inaccessible for fans at home and in the cities where the teams are playing. As the WNBA moves full speed ahead towards expansion, having partners that will stand up for the players and demand that the women of this league be treated with the care and respect they deserve will help the league reach higher heights.

Another important topic that was covered was advocating for yourself in the healthcare system. Across the financial spectrum, Black women have experienced high maternal mortality rates in the United States and this issue has been minimized in some quarters. For Black women in the US, these experiences contribute to poor health outcomes and they can have fatal consequences.

Ruggiero noted that it was “crucial” for women to advocate for themselves in the healthcare space. She mentioned the keys to advocating for yourself is to build your team, prepare, and share. The key to building that team is getting connected to your primary care provider and showing them the whole picture. It can be intimidating and sometimes you feel you may not have the best way to communicate what’s going on, but as you grow that inner strength, you will be able to stand up for yourself and others.

In one of my jobs, I work with clients with serious medical and mental health concerns. Certain settings like the doctor’s office, psychiatrist, etc. can be incredibly intimidating and when you’re in that space, you may be hesitant to ask the questions that about your health that you would want answered. The panelists gave out great suggestions to overcome that fear such as having an advocate buddy to accompany you to appointments, writing everything down you want answered at your providers, etc. Being able to stand up for yourself in this setting is essential to being a great advocate for you and those around you as well. As we think of health, it helps to think of it in a holistic lens. We remain proactive with our health and take everything into account as we take care of ourselves. As Black women continue to face bias and discrimination from their providers, we have to use our voices to advocate for better treatment for Black women and demand that their voices are heard, concerns addressed, and the care they receive is up to the standard that they deserve.

The beauty of attending this event was that the forum provided everyone there the opportunity to be in community with others who have advocated for themselves in various environments. Events like these are great to have people come together, share lived experiences, be there for each other, and look toward the future. As the Liberty continue growing their fanbase in the five boroughs, events like these will allow them to forge connections beyond the game of basketball.

David L. Nemec

After the panel concluded, Netsdaily had the opportunity to chat with Liberty CEO, Keia Clarke. In our conversation, we touched on empowerment as it relates to the business of basketball and beyond. Here are some highlights from our chat:

  • On the importance of the Liberty advocating for LGBTQ and non binary people and causes:

“I think the allyship, the support, really the dedication to LGBTQ celebrations and advocacy and awareness has always been on the forefront of what the Liberty has stood for. When it comes to not just Pride Month, but all year long, because I have the benefit of having been with the team for a long time, I remember when we were taking baby steps in the area of LGBTQ [causes], just having a Pride Night which has now grown to much more than that. But like I said, I think awareness and advocacy, and most importantly education, continues to become something that’s really, really important when you talk about Pride, and we’re just really happy to be a part of that movement and a part of that mission.”

  • On the importance of having a space like Barclays Center as it relates to having equal presence, equal power, and equal partnership:

“In a league with 12 franchises in the cities that we are, it’s important that there be a strong team and a team in New York City. Just the amount of people that we can reach and the fandom, and the fan engagement, the people of New York City deserve a women’s basketball team to root for. And I think, and this is no disrespect to Westchester County at all, but because we had been in Manhattan for so long, to be in the boroughs, to be accessible to all of the boroughs, to be accessible to the people who have supported the team for over 25 years, that was not only symbolic but it was really a symbol of resiliency. I give all credit and all kudos to Joe and Clara Tsai for making that major decision. As the owners of the building and as the owners of the Brooklyn Nets, they thought it important, they thought it equitable to make sure that the WNBA team in New York was calling something that was of high caliber, was of high quality, home.”

  • On having the spirit of advocacy and community as she goes about her work

“It’s just a cherry on top when you have authenticity from the top trickling down throughout the entire company. Their commitment to what I would deem the issues, be it underserved communities, be it gender equity in terms of the Liberty and other opportunities that they’ve helped to provide, I think that’s what this is all about. That’s what makes my grind and my commitment to helping this team grow and getting the fans out. That’s what really keeps me going because they’ve made that statement and shown their willingness to put resources behind the New York Liberty franchise.”

  • On the importance of advocating for Black women in the business and health spheres

“We’re so proud of and excited for the work that we’ve been able to do with Empire as our partner here in New York State. They actually have a partnership with four teams in the WNBA. It was a concerted effort. It was deliberate. This was about educating the fanbase and really doing work together, and they’re the partners of this actual event so they’ve made this possible. I can’t paint a better picture for how you want sponsorship to come to life when you think about what your mission and what your goals are and being able to do it in the same vein as a corporate supporter who’s come on board and said “We wanna do that too,” especially with Empire because we can bring in experts to talk about healthcare specifically to people who in the audience want answers, wanna learn, and wanna network with one another. I couldn’t be more happy with the outcome of tonight’s event but more so what we’re gonna do in the future as this is a multiyear partnership.”

David L. Nemec

As the Liberty continue to call Brooklyn home, their ability to be one with the community and be a positive presence will allow them to help improve things for the better.