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If you’re not familiar with the show, this popular PBS series is brought to you by professor, historian, and filmmaker Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates and his team who use research and genetics to weave together the history of various celebrities’ lives.
Anthony’s mother is Black and his father is Puerto Rican, but he didn’t know anything about his father’s (Carmelo Iriarte) Puerto Rican roots because he passed away from cancer when the OKC baller was just two-years-old. And after his father’s death, his mother, Mary Anthony, rarely spoke about his dad.
About ten years ago Melo started to get more information from his mother about his dad. As he investigated, the hoop star learned that his father was born in Manhattan in the late 1940s. Iriarte belonged to the New York Chapter of the civil rights organization known as the Young Lords, which was inspired by the Black Panthers. The Young Lords fought for community benefits like school breakfast and better healthcare for working-class Latinos.
“From what I’ve heard and what I know about my dad, he was for the people 1000 percent…What he stood for, it’s like, wow, he passed it on,” said Melo when Gates asked him about tapping into his activist journey. Carmelo has a foundation that builds and refurbishes basketball courts on PR.
The small forward told Gates,” As I started getting older and started to become more in tune to my Puerto Rican side and wanting to know who my dad was and that side of the family, that’s when all the questions started to come.”
Gates and his team did the heavy lifting to answer those questions. The results, as they always are, were very interesting. The researchers discovered that Luciano Iriarte, Melo’s grandfather, was a supervisor on a sugar plantation, who had two families that lived about two miles apart in Puerto Rico. And the families knew about each other.
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For the last two years of his Luciano’s life, he was quarantined in a leprosy hospital in Trujillo Alto. It’s the same city where Carmelo built a basketball court 80 years later. While Melo couldn’t explain what drew him to that city where he built the court, he said, “To know that now, makes that court much [more] special.”
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