Ray Allen is a basketball legend who scored more 3-pointers than any other player in NBA history. He’s also a passionate Holocaust educator who serves on the board of the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
How did Ray become interested in learning and teaching about the Holocaust? Ever since he was an army brat living in Germany where his father was stationed, he was curious about Germany’s dark history. Later, when he was a college student at the University of Connecticut, Ray took a trip to Washington DC and visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which had a deep impact on him. Later, when he was in the NBA and his team would travel to DC to play the Wizards, Ray would make it a point to visit the museum.
In his own words: “I’ll never forget how I felt after those two hours in there – I could have spent two days. My immediate feeling was that everyone needs to go there…. The people of these Jewish communities were pushed to the absolute limits of their human instincts. They just wanted to survive. And from that, the tales of brotherhood and camaraderie are so awe-inspiring. It was a reminder of what the human spirit is capable of – both for good and for evil. Honestly… it made me feel sort of irrelevant. Which was a strange thought to have as a young NBA player who was supposed to be on top of the world. I was realizing there were things outside my bubble that mattered so much more.”
For the rest of Ray’s NBA career, whatever team he was on, when they went to DC to play the Wizards, Ray would make time to take his teammates to the Holocaust Museum. He remembered, “Every visit was different, but each guy came out thanking me for taking us there. I could see in their eyes that they had a different perspective on life after that experience.”
In 2016, President Obama appointed Ray Allen to the board of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Ray said, “I am proud to serve in this role and to continue to share the important messages and lessons we all need to remember from the Holocaust. I want to inspire people to break down stereotypes, and treat one another – regardless of race, religion or anything else – like family. It’s more important now than ever.”
Ray traveled to Poland in 2017 to visit Auschwitz. Even though he’d read and learned a great deal about the Holocaust, nothing prepared him for the visceral experience of standing in a place where so many people suffered and died. He was deeply inspired by stories of righteous Gentiles, many of whom sacrificed their own lives to help Jews. Ray asked himself a tough question that’s impossible to answer, “Would I have done the same?”
When he returned to the U.S., Ray was surprised to find he was the subject of some controversy: “Some people didn’t like the fact that I was going to Poland to raise awareness for the issues that happened there and not using that time or energy to support people in the black community. I was told my ancestors would be ashamed of me. I know there are trolls online and I shouldn’t even pay attention, but that one sort of got to me. Because I understand where they were coming from. I understand that there are plenty of issues in our own country right now, but they were looking at my trip the wrong way. I didn’t go to Poland as a black person, a white person, a Christian person, or a Jewish person – I went as a human being…. The people who believe that I am not spending my time the right way… well, they’re missing the entire point. We shouldn’t label people as this thing or that thing. Because by doing so, you create these preconceived notions, which is how we get into these horrible situations in the first place… We have to do a better job breaking through ignorance and the close-mindedness and divisions that are plaguing our society….”
Ray Allen was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018. He continues to educate Americans about the Holocaust. Ray is Chairman and President of the Ray of Hope Foundation, which he founded in 1996 to help young people realize their full potential through sports and community programs that instill a feeling of self-worth.
For using his platform as a sports hero to promote Holocaust education, and for helping thousands of children through Ray of Hope, we honor Ray Allen as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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