Fight For What You Believe In!

Nothing can stop a project, a dream, a creator, a young person with hope like a fragile bird held in his hand, or a plan that seems out of reach more solidly and brutally than someone saying casually, “oh, that’s not possible. Can’t happen. Let it go.”

For some of these naysayers, there isn’t necessarily a machiavellian intent. Maybe he or she thinks it’s an act of kindness—a favor—to put help put to rest an effort that is only bound to lead to disappointment. A guidance counselor breaking the news that “college probably isn’t a realistic option.” A parent saying, “Writing is a tough slog and not really a worthy career pursuit.” There are also those who doubtless have ulterior motives hidden behind the concern curtain: maybe it’s concealed envy, a character flaw in which an individual takes pleasure in others’ failings (there’s a great German word for that: Schadenfreude,) or simply someone who doesn’t have sufficient faith that the seemingly impossible can be achieved through vision, focus, hard work, planning, and support.

Support. Yes, that is key. To be a success at the end, to succeed at achieving the “unattainable,” it’s important to build a network of champions around you. Those who do believe your fight is winnable, who can see that glimmer of glory buried within you, those who cheer you on in the stands, or who donate to your fund, or who help you fill out that college application or résumé . . . those are the wagons to have circle around you as you fight for what you believe you can accomplish—the greatness you know lurks inside you and with all the force you can muster will rise like a phoenix—those are the ones who will share your glory as you raise your arms in victory.

Fight for what you believe in! Set aside the words of discouragement with loving forgiveness, and receive the roars of encouragement and let them elevate you beyond where you exist, holding that fragile dream, and where many would like you to stay. Because many would love to see you stay right where you are. Without that victory, without that state championship, without that college scholarship, without that dream career, without that award-winning documentary.

Get lifted. Listen to the right voices. Do the work. And fight. Because what you believe in is what you can do.

Overcoming Adversity Against All Odds

Across our country, millions of public school students from low-income, high-crime areas overcome dire circumstances, such as gang presence, food instability, inadequate housing, and ubiquitous drug culture, to succeed academically. They defy the stereotype that poverty precludes academic success and that low income and low academic performance are unavoidably linked. These small success stories everywhere demonstrate that children and adolescents from the most challenging backgrounds can succeed in school and in life, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges.

But what about when something truly tragic happens that shakes the schools, the students . . . the entire community? How, as a group, do the various individuals and institutions work together to heal and recover from the toughest of assaults when the stakes are already against them? Take Joplin, Missouri where, in May of 2011, an EF-5 multiple-vortex tornado—one mile wide— hit their town. It killed 158 people and injured 1,150. It did 2.8 billion dollars’ worth of damage to a city that was already hit hard by the economy and the scourge of methamphetamine culture.

The city of Joplin estimates that, in the aftermath of the disaster, almost 130,000 volunteers logged hundreds of thousands of hours of labor, bringing what looked like utter devastation back into a recognizable village. The rebuilding that occurred has been referred to by Joplinites as a “miracle of the human spirit.” And when educational officials opened the schools after the tornado, the expected a marked decline in enrollment and attendance. Instead, what happened was this: a united, victorious 95% of the students returning to class.

Similar stories of inspiration can be found in the wake of both natural disasters and tragedies brought about by shocking and unexpected criminal events. In cities touched by sudden violence, often the residents will pull together with greater unity than ever before . . . as if defying the very attacker itself (natural or otherwise) to “come at me, Bro.”

When assaults to the foundations of our communities occur, rebuilding is sometimes much harder than building from scratch. But it’s not impossible, and it can be done through certain stages of emotional processing, individually and as a group, and it might look something like this:

Express your grief. Allow yourself to mourn fully. Do not resist, reduce, or repress it in yourself or others.

Get help. The best way to do this is in a small group, such as a church or therapy network. If you are unable to handle your feelings alone, you may find comfort and real, useful tools by uniting with others who are similarly suffering.

Choose to move on. I know, this is the hardest one. But this is what the most successful communities do, as a group and as individuals. They move on. Step by painful step, until the pain lessens.

Clarify your priorities. You cannot change what happened, but you can live out the remainder of your life focused on family, community, reunification, and healing. And before too long, you may find that you’re all even stronger than you were before.

The Importance of Sports in the Lives of Our Youth

We’ve all done it: sat at a desk, crumpled up a sheet of paper, taken aim at the nearest trashcan and imagined the crowd waiting breathlessly as we go for the goal. Balls of all types are intuitively appealing to us, because “they’re kinetically fascinating, with their unique capacity to roll, bounce, spin [and] ricochet,” says anthropologist John Fox, whose 8-year-old son’s question about why we play with them inspired him to write The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game.

The human impulse to play with a ball has been around since the first cavemen challenged each other to see who could throw the pig bladder farther, and it continues in every human culture throughout our modern world. We’ve made them out of all sorts of low-tech, found objects. In the absence of “real” balls, people have created them from plastic bags tied into tightly bundled spheres, woven reeds and even lumps of clay. After all, it wasn’t until the advent of rubber manufacturing that people were easily able to standardize ball creation for use in organized play.

“Play is essential to our physical and cognitive development,” says Fox. “It’s a crucial part of how young people learn about the physical and social worlds we inhabit and how to navigate them. It’s no surprise that balls are endlessly engaging and stimulating and can keep a group of kids or even a lone kid happily occupied for hours.” In essence, sure, it keeps idle hands busy and away from temptations that could cause sociological harm. But even in areas where crime isn’t present on every corner, football and other organized sports give structure and a sense of pride to all involved.

And that’s just the beginning. In high-crime communities like Del Paso Heights and countless others, games like football can help unite rival gangs, inspire community togetherness, and give at-risk kids something to work for and towards. It helps the most disadvantaged kids learn key life and social skills through the global language of sport. In many such regions, football does more than just impact community. It provides the required discipline of answering to respected authority figures—coaches and assistant coaches—who help keep tabs on the academic life and general well-being of the players.

And, lest we forget: football is a game. It is play, even though it becomes invested with so much more when the players are nearly adults and the stakes become very high. Children—even teens—are benefited by the simple act of play. It has been proven to help in recovery from trauma, in coping with extraordinary challenges, and in developing physiological and even spiritual health. Simply put, play helps the most vulnerable people in our communities—our youth, especially at-risk youth—maximize human potential. It’s a simple, invaluable contribution to the lives of our young folk that enables them to thrive, and nurtures the indomitable human spirit.