The lightbulb didn’t fully go off until after Michael Brown was shot by the police. It was 2014 and riots ensued. My friend and I were debating the details of what happened. I read this, he read that, this is what happened, no that is different than what I read…. My tendency was to want to know the backstory. What did the guy do to put himself in that situation? Why was there an altercation? I was trying to find a justification for the violence. This went on until his wife (our very good friend) said “You guys, it does not matter. You do not live in Missouri. You will not be on a jury, you are not judges, and you are not lawyers. The response from an entire community is what you should take note of, it doesn’t matter the details. There is a much deeper thing going on here. Go talk to your friends of color and ask them about their stories.” In my thinking at the time, there was a young man that got into a fight with the police and was shot and killed. I could not understand the response from the incident as cities dealt with riots and protests for days.
I began to understand after following my friends advice and asking my black friends about their experiences. I coached with some amazing men and had coached with them for a couple years. I had a relationship with them and spent a lot of time with them. I went into those conversations with a stance of what happened to Michael Brown happened in Missouri. It’s the South. Of course there is racism in the South, but I live in the PNW. We are progressive out here.
I was absolutely rocked by their stories. Each coach and friend had examples of times they were treated not just with disrespect, but were stereotyped, oppressed and at times feared for their lives.
One story that rocked me was of one of my coaches that was finishing his masters. He was getting a masters in school administration with an eye on being a vice principal/AD. He said he made a mistake and drove after having too much to drink. He got pulled over and ended up getting a DUI. During the encounter he realized he was not safe, that the situation was escalating and that HE needed to de-escalate the situation. I was shocked. I had probably 20 of my white teammates through the years in college get DUIs. NEVER did any of them say anything about being fearful for their life, and knowing some of them I am sure they were not the picture of calm and kind. Why would my friend need to be the one to de-escalate the situation?
Hearing these stories was a turning point for me.
My head coach at the private catholic school I coached at was fired 4 years into me being there. I had a friend that taught at an inner city school (Garfield HS home of Brandon Roy, Go Blazers!) and convinced me to try and coach there. Inner city schools often do not get the best and brightest for assistant coaches, they are typically poorly funded programs and head coaches are left trying to fill a staff with volunteers and they somewhat get what they get.
I had been coaching football since a career-ending injury turned me from player to coach for my college team. By that time I had coached for 6 years I was a good coach. I coached out of love and treated the kids with respect. I went to Garfield not to be a white savior but to be a positive impact on kids’ lives. When my head coach hired me he said off-handedly “this is good, we need some diversity on our staff.” I laughed and told him I had never been diversity before.
The second day I was their one of the assistant coaches came up to me and we were chatting for a bit. He says to me “It is really good that you are here. These kids do not see positive white role models. You are a white dude that knows what he is talking about when it comes to football.” Football allowed me to have a voice with those kids and I had the opportunity to speak truth and love into them. Both the coaches and kids had the opportunity to teach me as well. My kids were amazing. I never had any issues with them. I treated them with respect and they reciprocated.
The Hood River Valley by some estimates is 50% Hispanic. I have continued to try and engage the community around us. I talk to the guys that I hire for our field about current events and how it impacts their community. I also make it a point, and have for a couple years, to read and listen to non-white voices. I listen to podcasts by minorities, I read books written by women, African Americans, Native Americans, Middle Eastern etc. I currently listen to a podcast called Throughline by NPR. It is hosted and produced by an Iranian born American man and a Saudi born American woman. It gives historical context to current events and I love history. Seek out different voices. Read and learn.
The verse Micah 6:8 has been my mantra for a couple years: "What does the Lord require of you?...Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly before your God." Do justice to me means fighting INJUSTICE. There is no shortage of fighting to be done.
A CLOSING WORD FROM A FRIEND.
Here is a word from one of my former teammates at Western Oregon. I asked him if I could share it and he said yes. He is a good man, married, family and that works for Oregon DHS:
“...As a Black man I’ve been followed by cops countless times, I’ve been pulled over twice because there was a “strong marijuana smell” coming from my car. I’ve been pulled over twice by cops with their guns drawn because I “fit the description.” I’ve never shared that until now. If some of you actually took the time to talk to us and get to know us you would learn that most black folks have a similar experience as mine or they know someone that does. And I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I wasn’t framed for a crime, set up by police, or killed by police. Seeing unarmed black men and women being killed by cops is not something new to us but we’re fed up. Fed up of watching our own die to the hands of dirty cops, for what? This is why we’re protesting. If you’re pissed off about these protests happening more than WHY they’re happening then you are part of the problem.”