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13 Percent Creates Community for Black Student-Athletes

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
Senior Branden Johns, midfielder on the men’s soccer team and president of 13 Percent, represented Villanova at the 2023 Black Student Athletes Summit in Los Angeles, CA last May.

When men’s soccer senior midfielder Branden Johns isn’t manning the middle of the pitch for the Wildcats, he fills a different role. 

Johns is the president of 13 Percent, one of six UNITAS student-athlete affinity groups. According to its page on the UNITAS website, 13 Percent “represents the black student-athletes at Villanova University.”

The UNITAS program was officially launched in August of 2020 as Villanova Athletics’ dedicated diversity, equity and inclusion effort.

Johns got involved with 13 Percent as a way to find community after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I originally got involved my sophomore year,” Johns said. “Since I’m a senior, I came in in 2020, and that year was Covid. The only people of color I knew on my campus were myself and my teammates, I didn’t really get to socialize and meet other people like that.”

13 Percent, like the other affinity groups, works to foster a safe environment for discussion of social issues. According to its website, the environment “gives black student-athletes an opportunity to express themselves and be vulnerable while creating a bond outside the classroom and playing field.”

“Without UNITAS as a whole, it would be a lot harder for people to understand that there are people going through things just like them, have the same beliefs, think the same way,” Johns said. “UNITAS has done a really good job building up diversity, equity and inclusion.”

A major part of what 13 Percent does is facilitate social connections between student-athletes on campus. The organization sponsors different events throughout the year, including an annual poetry slam and a gala.

“We had professional poets come up and speak their pieces,” Johns said of this year’s slam. “We also had a few students sign up and volunteer and speak during open mic night.”

For Johns, getting involved with 13 Percent was a way to make Villanova, something he considers a second home, more comfortable. Now, his goal has become to help other student-athletes find a group that they can be comfortable in.

“[13 Percent] helped me understand that, in college, you’re going to meet a bunch of different people, but there are also going to be people that are just like you,” Johns said. “Ever since I’ve learned that, I’ve been able to take it and spread it throughout campus. A few of my teammates joined 13 Percent after I joined because I feel like I was talking about it so much.”

Five of Johns’ men’s soccer teammates are now members of 13 Percent. Four of Johns’ teammates hold executive board positions.

A graduating senior, Johns said that joining 13 Percent was crucial to his collegiate experience.

“Having that additional safe space to talk about any and everything without the pressure of feeling judged or feeling like I would be looked at differently is extremely important.” Johns said. “I know that there are going to be times after college where I might be looked at differently or judged differently based on my beliefs on a topic or something along those lines. So, being able to have this reminds you to take a breath, because there are people that go through the same thing as me.”

Johns said that the skills he learned as both a student-athlete and an affinity group leader have helped prepare him for life after college. 

“Some of the life lessons that I’ve learned from the founders and former presidents and former members in general, I feel like if I didn’t join [13 Percent] I wouldn’t have learned those lessons as quickly as I had and understand that it’s really important,” Johns said.

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Owen Hewitt
Owen Hewitt, Co-Sports Editor
Owen Hewitt is one of two Co-Sports Editors in 2024. Entering his second year in this position, he is a Communications major specializing in journalism. Owen is a Memphis native and a die-hard Grizzlies fan, although his main loyalty lies with Memphis 901 FC. When not writing about basketball or soccer, Owen can often be found on stage, performing as part of Villanova's improv team Ridiculum. Owen has many goals in life, including going into sports journalism as a profession, but his main goal — always — is to stay jitty with it.
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