I love frisbee and have for as long as I can remember. Recently, as I was entering into a few weeks of sabbatical time away from work, a friend asked me what I thought would be most regenerative of my mind, body and spirit during this time. In addition to rest, slowing down, being generally mindful, and taking a break from screens, social media and the news, one of the things that came top of mind was playing frisbee. I have memories of my teenage and twenty-something self in utter bliss and a sense of timelessness, hurling a disk across a vast expanse at a corner lot in our neighborhood in Flint, Michigan or at a lakeside park in upstate New York with my dad or a friend, feeling the breeze, watching the frisbee glide and rotate against a backdrop of brilliant blue sky and feeling the grass massage my bare feet as I ran to make a catch. Heaven.
This is a love that I seem to have successfully instilled in my three daughters. And one of them, our eldest, has taken it to another level this season through her involvement in her high school varsity ultimate frisbee team. I have only played “ultimate” a couple of times, and very informally, in my lifetime. Growing up in the Midwest US, this was not “a thing” the way that it is here in the northeast. And it turns out that at the high school level in this community, it is taken quite seriously and is played with great skill. Having said that, the culture and success of the ultimate frisbee boys’ team here has been particularly striking in that it seems so different from what one usually thinks about in terms of high performance athletics. The more I have learned and experienced this current high school ultimate frisbee season, especially in the context of these times, the more I have appreciated what is happening right under my nose, forall that it gives to the teenagers involved and would seem to offer a mainstream culture hurting for lack of alternative ways of being, well, more human(e), especially in adolescent and competitive contexts.
My oldest daughter, Annabel, also plays varsity volleyball, which takes up a lot of her time in the fall. When she got involved in frisbee during the spring, one of the first things I noticed was her overall upbeat attitude and holistic appreciation for her teammates and the ultimate culture. “There just isn’t much drama,” Annabel explained to me at one point, “and people are really kind, supportive and frankly mature.” In a sense, ultimate to her is not just a sport, but a way of life. She went on to explain how in ultimate games there are no referees, that players take responsibility for calling fouls and then talking it out if there are any differences of perspective. I’ve witnessed this a number of times in games and have been impressed that even when there is clearly tension and disagreement, the players manage to work it through – some beautiful self-organization and respectful confrontation/ fierce civility on display!
I also came to appreciate early on in this recently completed spring season, the joy-full, heartfelt, and creative expression that comes up during and around games. After one memorable game, the two competing teams sang songs they had composed to one another, conveying appreciation for the adversary. In another case, after one team scored, the other team gave them a standing ovation as a salute to the level of play and skillfulness on display. In a recent tournament finale, the boys’ team was down a couple of points with not much time remaining and called a timeout. Instead of getting down on one another or into a heated strategic conversation, they played music and engaged in a playful dance circle for a couple of minutes, then went on to win the game. And when someone accidentally hurts someone else during play, they make sure to stay engaged with the injured person, showing genuine care and making sure the person gets the support they need.
The camaraderie and respect on display is really remarkable. The boys’ and girls’ teams come to one another’s games and cheer each other on. “You just don’t see this in other sports at the school,” says Annabel. Each time someone scores from either team there is an outburst of celebration from whoever is cheering from the sideline. If someone makes a mistake on the field they are supported by players on and off the field, and the invitation is for everyone to move on. It is not unusual to see the boys come together in a game to hold hands and take a deep breath together to gather themselves, and for both teams to engage in a mindful moment before a game. Annabel says to me, “We genuinely love each other and enjoy being with one another.” This shows and comes through time spent outside of practice and games building relationships and rapport, including through community service projects. (the most recent being at the local survival center).
There is also a core element of mindful inclusion and paying attention to privilege. The boys’ team recently made the decision not to go to a “by invitation only” national conference because of its exclusivity and tendency to only include mostly white teams and privileged schools. The girls’ team, in light of its multi-racial make-up, has had open conversations about anti-racism and anti-sexism. And there has been an attempt to create across programs an authentic and welcoming community for LGBTQ+ team members, including an open embrace of trans athletes.
One last point worth making. There is a very mature invitation by members of the ultimate teams to take personal responsibility and, as Annabel explains it, “focus on controllables, not uncontrollables.” In other words, to enact the serenity prayer, knowing when to push for change and when to let go and just flow with what is. I can see how this is impacting my daughter and her teammates in a time that begs for this kind of discernment.
In a world that can seem at times so unmoored, this spring ultimate frisbee season and the remarkable leadership of these local teens has given me hope for the present and future.
“America is an old house. We can never declare the work over. Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation. When you live in an old house, you may not want to go into the basement after a storm to see what the rains have wrought. Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.”
– Isabel Wilkerson, from Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Institutional racism shows up in both formalized and informal ways, from human resources policies that privilege white-dominant norms of “professionalism” to cultures that instill a sense of belongingto those who feel more comfortable in norms of whiteness. We invite you to watch this 3-minute video summing up institutional racism in the US, and to read this article on equity and inclusion as the basis of organizational well-being.
We are in the midst of a crisis in this country. When a split second decision by one person results in multiple wounds or death for a young man or young woman. Because he didn’t get off the sidewalk quickly enough? Because his music was too loud? Because she knocked on your door? No, these are not the reasons. All of these young people happen to be black. This is not a coincidence.
I met Juan Pacheco of Barrios Unidos recently at a gathering focused on creating an affirming narrative about boys and young men of color. He shared his own personal story—a journey from El Salvador to the U.S., from a supportive family to a gang as a substitute for family. He shares the power of love to transform violence and to liberate young people from despair, pain, and confinement within a prism of societal and self-perceptions of failure. Here are just a few of his many inspiring thoughts, quoted from two talks that you can listen to on line. Read More
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is what the Community Healing Network (CHN), chaired by the late Dr. Maya Angelou, calls a “psychological freedom fighter.” The clip of Dr. King posted here is a portion of his 1967 speech, “Where do we go from here,” which is well worth reading or listening to in full.
The CHN describes the straightforward and deeply challenging struggle of black people (and I think it’s fair to say all people of color in some way) for psychological freedom from racism. Read More
Check out the ways that love of her many identities frees up spoken word artist Jamila Lyiscott to be her full self. She reminds us that a full, loving embrace of yourself and your cultures enables others to see you more fully and embrace all of your cultures, while it makes space for others to do the same for themselves. That’s change making at a personal level that can radiate outward to the entire community. Read More
The settlement of the case of the Central Park 5 is a great day for the five individuals, add a great day for the cause of racial justice. The case of Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise is a textbook case of structural racism: implicit bias, coupled with strong-arm institutional police practices used against young men of color, and a media too eager to believe the hype, leading to the conviction of five innocent young black men for a horrendous crime. The documentary about these young men, by Ken Burns, captures the intense impact of the wrongful accusation and imprisonment on the lives of the five young men and their families. Read More
Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments and chair of the board for DreamWorks Animation challenges us to be “color brave” instead of “color blind.” Here are a few snippets from her TED talk. Well worth listening to in its entirety.
“[R]esearchers have coined this term “color blindness” to describe a learned behavior where we pretend that we don’t notice race. If you happen to be surrounded by a bunch of people who look like you, that’s purely accidental. Now, color blindness, in my view, doesn’t mean that there’s no racial discrimination, and there’s fairness. It doesn’t mean that at all. It doesn’t ensure it. In my view, color blindness is very dangerous because it means we’re ignoring the problem… this subject matter can be hard, awkward, uncomfortable — but that’s kind of the point… If we can learn to deal with our discomfort, and just relax into it, we’ll have a better life.
“So I think it’s time for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, male, female, all of us, if we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, I think we have to have real conversations about this issue. We cannot afford to be color blind. We have to be color brave. We have to be willing, as teachers and parents and entrepreneurs and scientists, we have to be willing to have proactive conversations about race with honesty and understanding and courage, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do, because our businesses and our products and our science, our research, all of that will be better with greater diversity…
“I’m actually asking you to do something really simple: observe your environment, at work, at school, at home. I’m asking you to look at the people around you purposefully and intentionally. Invite people into your life who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, don’t act like you, don’t come from where you come from, and you might find that they will challenge your assumptions and make you grow as a person…
“I’m asking you to show courage. I’m asking you to be bold. As business leaders, I’m asking you not to leave anything on the table. As citizens, I’m asking you not to leave any child behind. I’m asking you not to be color blind, but to be color brave, so that every child knows that their future matters and their dreams are possible.”
I’ve been reading Diana Block’s memoir, Arming the Spirit, and am grateful for the chance to dig into another story of someone whose work for social justice came before me and contributed to where we’re at now. Diana went underground for thirteen years in the 1980s and 90s as part of a collective doing solidarity work with the Puerto Rican independence and Black liberation movements. Diana’s journey represents one group’s choice about how to be effective as white folks challenging racist systems of oppression.
“Our political history was rooted in our commitment as white people to solidarity with Third World struggles around the world and inside this country. That commitment will take different forms today but I think solidarity is still critical for white people who want to make social change. Also, for people who live in America, we definitely need to situate our work in relationship to the efforts of people around the globe who are fighting imperialism or we cannot expect to achieve very much.”*