COURTESY OF EVANN SMITH

Evann Smith is a goalkeeper for the UC Santa Barbara women’s soccer team. Following the police killing of George Floyd, Smith and a group of fellow athletes created a GoFundMe fundraiser in the hopes of raising $1,000 for Black Lives Matter. They ended up raising almost $80,000. Below, Smith spoke with Just Women’s Sports about her experience over the last few weeks, and how she’s working to create change in America. 

Can you walk me through these past few weeks and how things have developed for you? 

When I saw the video of George Floyd’s murder, I was really sad and angry. It was really hard to see that happen. And then I saw the protests. I felt frustrated and helpless because I couldn’t attend any big protest in Los Angeles because my parents thought it was dangerous. Then, I got a text in our team group chat that Lauren Moss and Hannah Wendelken had come up with the idea to run for Black Lives Matter. That idea morphed into ‘Athletes for Changes.’ Our initial goal was to raise $1,000. It blows my mind that we have $79,000 now. I feel blessed to be a part of it and blessed that the team was able to organize together.

Have your teammates and coaches been supportive throughout this process? 

Oh, yes. I feel like it’s a difficult conversation because we were raised to not be controversial. Before we started the fundraiser though, Hannah was texting in our group chat about how we should support BLM and how all of the white players on our team can be allies — how they should check their white privilege. I was astonished because I’ve never heard any of my teammates in my entire history of playing soccer ever say that. It made me feel so welcome and loved and supported. I’ve had conversations with the black girls on my team, and they feel just as supported as I do.

Our entire team is built on love and support. We have a black coach, named Goffin Boyoko, and he was so emotional about what we were doing — he said his wife was crying about it. He texted us saying how grateful he was and how much love he felt.

Why do you think it’s important to speak out? 

I think it’s important to speak out because if we don’t speak out and have these uncomfortable conversations, then nothing’s ever going to change. We need to have these conversations because Black lives do matter. It is insane how many Black people are being killed and not getting any justice. It’s been going on for over 200 years. We are the generation that can change things. We have the platforms to change things.

What do you think specifically needs to change? 

I think it needs to start with the education system. It’s important to accurately teach youth about systematic racism and how many struggles Black people have actually gone through — how many barriers have been implemented by the government.

We also need to educate ourselves about who we are voting for at the local level. Change starts at the local level. Everyone needs to go out and vote in November because this election is super important for our democracy. You need to be the change that you want to see. Now is not the time to be docile, to be silent.

Why do you think it is important for athletes, in particular, to speak out? 

Athletes are like heroes. People listen to athletes because athletes are like Captain America, but realistic. I do think that athletes should use their platforms because they do have opinions and people, especially fans, respect those opinions. The past few weeks have also made me realize that activism is not just about going to protests. You can use different avenues to support positive change. I think we chose athletics as our avenue because it’s what we knew best.

Can you talk me through the process of how you and your team started the fundraiser? 

As I said, Lauren had the idea that we should run and raise money for the Black Lives Matter movement. That was a stepping stone in the process. We then created ‘Athletes for Changes’ and, in the future, we are hoping to promote change throughout the athletic community. We are now in the works of making a website. We used athletics because it’s what we know best and because a lot of people can relate to it. People ask, “Wow, you’re about to run 8.46 miles. For what?” When we say that we are doing it for Black Lives Matter, they understand and want to get behind it. It really shows how far you can go to do something for a good cause.

How did you decide to donate all of the proceeds to the Black Lives Matter organization? 

Initially, we were going to donate to a couple of different organizations. There was a problem, though, because the NCAA doesn’t let you donate to organizations that aren’t 501C3s. And then there was a problem because GoFundMe doesn’t allow you to divy up the money — it all has to go to one beneficiary. After all of this, we chose Black Lives Matter because we felt like they were so strong on both a national and worldwide level. We thought that they were the strongest organization to get the money and do something with it.

Did UCSB help you in any way? 

It’s actually a crazy story. One day, after we had set everything up and created the GoFundMe, we got a text in the group chat saying, “What about compliance?” At that point, we had already raised about $2,000 and we realized that we hadn’t reached out to compliance, yet. We went and talked to our coach, Coach Paul Stumpf, and he got in contact with Sean Strauch and Kelly Barsky from UCSB immediately. The two of them were such a great help. They worked with the legal team at NCAA and figured out how we could make the fundraiser legitimate. I know when I got the email saying that everything worked out, I literally jumped for joy. I was crying the whole day.

Did you ever expect to raise as much money as you did? 

Not at all. When we were setting up the GoFundMe, we had to create a goal. My teammate Hannah said a hundred dollars. I said a thousand dollars. I felt like that was the limit. I thought that if we raised a thousand dollars, it would be amazing and we could give $330 to each organization that we were planning on donating to. But then, in the first six hours, we raised almost $3,000. It was awesome. We saw the potential in how many people appreciated college athletes stepping up and trying to make a difference. So then, I thought, let’s make this bigger. We went onto the national level and that’s when it went crazy.

How did it feel watching the donations numbers keep climbing and climbing? 

I remember it exactly. My brother came home on Sunday night and I was telling him how we were at $18,000 earlier in the day, but we had reached $25,000 at that point. It was insane. The day before we were only at $5,000. The next morning, I woke up and we were at $50,000. I just kept thinking, “There’s no way.” I would go to my phone and see all of these people tagging us on Instagram. It was so amazing. There were people in Nebraska tagging us and I remember thinking, “That is so awesome — that is the most random state ever.”

What was your reaction to seeing how many people participated in the workouts honoring George Floyd? 

I started crying. I was so overwhelmed by how many people were actually doing it. People were doing it in groups and they were expanding on the concept. I saw one athletic trainer who was doing 8.46 workouts and circuits. It was incredible to see people take our 8.46 mile run and put it in their own realm. It inspired me to do more and to keep pushing. We’re going to keep on moving forward and forward, until there is actual change in this country.

How do you hope the BLM movement will use your donations? 

Black Lives Matter does a couple of things: they focus on legislation, they do positive outreaches, and they spread the word. For me, personally, I want the money to go towards changing legislation. That way there is actual physical change — something concrete — that is happening. It’s great to keep protesting and spreading the message, but for there to be change, we need to enact concrete laws that stop all of the injustices and inequalities.

What’s next for ‘Athletes for Changes’? 

We are taking steps to become a nonprofit so that we can receive donations directly. I don’t know exactly what we will do with the donations yet because we have so many ideas. There are so many potential avenues that we can go down with this. I think the next step is trying to create change in our own communities — in the athletic and collegiate communities.

Do you have anything else you would like to add? 

I would just like to be clear that this is a team effort — it’s not just me. I would love to say that this was my idea because it is ingenious, but it wasn’t. Natasha and Darrian and Hannah have helped to make this bigger and more attainable for other people to join. I don’t want to take credit for it because it wasn’t just me.