The Minnesota Timberwolves players were in Sacramento preparing to play when they learned of the Derek Chauvin verdict back in Minneapolis. It brought a sense of relief since George Floyd’s death last May, which greatly impacted the Black players and other team members.
Tru Pettigrew, since last summer, has helped the players through the tough aftermath. He founded his Tru Access organization several years ago. Pettigrew’s website calls him “the ultimate bridge-builder” in helping organizations effectively build bridges across generations to close racial, cultural and relational divisions. He previously spent 20 years working in youth and multicultural marketing at advertising and marketing agencies.
“When I first started this work,” he explained, “it was mostly out of concern for the safety and well-being of my son. My son [who will turn nine on May 17] was my source of inspiration.”
Pettigrew hails from Cary, North Carolina, a predominately White town. “I have had my own encounters with law enforcement growing up where I was on the receiving end of excessive force, thrown to the ground, gun to my head. None of these ever ended in fatalities for me.
“I just figured I’d navigate life on my own, internalize [such situations], and process that like many other Black men in America,” he continued. “But then having a son was a game changer because now I’m responsible for another life.”
Another police-related killing involving a Black man spurred him to act: “It was the Michael Brown incident [in August 2014], and I walked through the doors to have a conversation with the local PD, get a better understanding of where they stood on all these issues.
“Do I need to be worried about my son’s safety? If there were a chance encounter with my son…at a bare minimum, I wanted [to know] there would be a level of familiarity with who he is. Can he get the same grace and privileges that his [White] counterparts would receive?
“The officer I met with showed a level of empathy,” recalled Pettigrew. That initial conversation “really led me to do the work that I believe I’ve been called to do, building bridges of trust and understanding between law enforcement and the Black community.
“I developed a diversity and inclusion training program” and held sessions at the local Black barbershops in Cary, where police officers and community folk could meet “on a human level to break down any biases and barriers that they have.”
Pettigrew eventually brought his work to the Twin Cities in the aftermath of Floyd’s death last summer. His work was so impressive that the Timberwolves hired him last December as vice president of player programs, diversity and inclusion.
Asked if he’d ever envisioned working for an NBA team, Pettigrew quickly admitted, “I had no idea it would lead to this. It was not my plan, not my intentions, was not my vision whatsoever.
“To really, openly start action steps to what we’re going to do, to a place of clarity of purpose to what we’re doing—it needs to start with dialogue,” Pettigrew said. “I firmly believe that you can get a true understanding of where the true pain points are for the people that are being marginalized…the most vulnerable population of our community and the people that are being oppressed.
“I would love to do that part of my job so well that there will be a day when there’s not even a need for me,” concluded Pettigrew. “I want to do my job so well that I put myself out of business.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.