ESPN honored two Bronx high schoolers, Matt Diaz and Lisa Parks, with its inaugural Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award for their success in using sports to make a positive impact on their communities at the fifth annual Sports Humanitarian Awards (ESPYs) ceremony. Matt and Lisa garnered recognition for the way they drew attention to inequities in high school access to sports for Black and Latino youth through their work with Fair Play Coalition, which works so all kids can have access to all athletic courts and fields controlled by the Department of Education.
Matt and Lisa are lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) against the DOE. They also lobbied the New York city council to pass a law designed to expose sports inequities, which passed council this summer. Matt is a rising freshman at Lafayette College and Parks is a rising senior at the Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters.
“They’re each using their love of sports to improve their communities, their countries, their communities, and their world,” said Billie Jean King, announcing Matt and Lisa’s accolade at a ceremony in Los Angeles.
“I am thrilled to receive the award, and was so happy to meet Billie Jean King, but our work isn’t finished. We still have a lot of work to get done to achieve equity in sports in our city,” Lisa said after receiving the award.
The average Black or Latino high school student in the city has access to approximately 10 fewer teams than city students of other races. Fair Play combats these statistics through all forms of advocacy, including lobbying, education efforts, media and press strategies, and potential legal recourse. The organization aims to create systemic change within the DOE. Fair Play and its advocates demand equal access to teams and facilities for all students regardless of race, location, size of school, or language ability.
“The recognition is a great honor and we thank ESPN for it,” Matt said. “[We] look forward to thinking about next steps to bring about progress with the contacts we made last week because the world still needs a lot of change.”