Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Responsibility We Have To One Another - Tremendous Applause For @StagsMensBball - You Made A Tremendous Impact @CWPFairfield @WritingProject

Dear Fairfield University Men's Basketball Team,

I write this post a humbled man.

Three years ago I arrived to Fairfield University to Direct the Connecticut Writing Project on our campus and to begin putting into place what 18+ years of working in urban schools taught me. I also have wisdom from my cousin, Mark Crandall, who has had a vision for uniting sports as he brings forth international change through Hoops4Hope, a youth-centered program providing children and young adults in challenged environments with a safe, nurturing place where they can develop more than just athletic skills.

I learned from him the importance of life skills when mentoring young men and women: focus, integrity, self-esteem, self-awareness, responsibility, a sense of humor, and Ubuntu - skills he adapted from Erik Komoroff's Community of Unity. In order for young people to be successful in and out of school, it requires a commitment from us all - that is, Ubuntu - "I can be me because of who we are together."

Yesterday, you proved those life skills are important with your  willingness to work with 15 young men and women from Bridgeport, many of whom are recent immigrants from countries that do not have the luxuries of the United States. In addition, you gave up your time during the summer to talk with several Connecticut teachers about learning, sports, neighborhoods, having fun, and keeping academics on the radar of your own success. For that I am grateful. You - with your power as student athletes and a commitment to achieving - provided irreplaceable insight in Alumni Hall.

We would not be where we are today if we didn't have a larger mission in life - for me, it has always been literacy and the support of reading, writing, speaking, and thinking with a wide variety of individuals who deserve an opportunity to advance in the United States. If you weren't determined to bring yourself a better world and to accomplish personal goals you set for yourself, you wouldn't be where you are. You modeled and the teachers and students heard you. 


Perhaps my favorite word in the English language, you also demonstrated integrity. It was HOT in Alumni Hall - hotter than the 90+ degree temperatures outside, yet you still gave up a part of your life to work with the youth attending Ubuntu Academy and teachers participating in the Invitational Summer Institute. If you were miserable in the heat, you didn't show it. Instead, with pride, you shared your lives and personal stories with educators committed to advancing the lives of young people in Connecticut. 


Every individual arrives on this planet with an ego. They also bring with them insecurities that arrive from trial and error. Still, those who pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and push forth in a direction to live a better life are those who achieve and have a larger impact on others. Me? There's no way I could play ball on a court in front of fans. My basketball skills are null. Yet, I know I can teach and reach populations of kids often overlooked by popular culture and history. We share something in common - that is, we have enough self-esteem to make ourselves better and this, THIS, you shared with everyone yesterday. You helped the young people build their self-esteem


You're still young, but I'd argue that you're more self-aware today than you were last year or the year before. Knowing who you are means you have to take risks and step into unfamiliar boundaries that may or may not make you comfortable. We learn who we are by embracing life with all it has to offer us. My personal belief is that we are never finished products, but grow more and more aware of who we are meant to be (for our family, our friends, our mentors, and our fellow human beings). Perhaps yesterday's mentoring opportunity made you somewhat more self-aware. I know that the teachers and students you worked with  were touched by what you offered the program.


From the time you were born, you've heard the importance of taking responsibility. As you age at Fairfield University - especially as student athletes - you are more and more aware of the roles you play for this campus, those who love you, and to the larger community. Society at large, too, places varying responsibilities on you as young men, as athletes, as students, and as consumers in a complicated world. The mature man, however, balances out these responsibilities to do what is right and to be leaders. The conversation you had yesterday, I hope, helped you to see the multiple responsibilities you have for being incredible individuals that others look up to.

A Sense of Humor

There may not be a whackier individual at Fairfield University than me, and I learned young that laughter can take me a long, long way (although Kyle didn't like my hair jokes). I take life seriously, but sometimes I am a total imp when it comes to the seriousness of it all. I missed the faces your group made to one another in yesterday's dialogue and I hope, at least for a short time in the program, you laughed a little. I've been told I laugh too much - and I know the importance of being serious - but I think the greatest men and women are those who have learned to laugh at themselves. I encourage you to keep humor at the forefront, too.


And most important of all - community. When I approached Coach Sydney Johnson with the possibility of collaborating with your team, I didn't know if it would mesh with his leadership or not. Yet, I've learned over the last few years that what Coach Johnson does with you on the court (and off the court) is what I do in the classroom (and out of the classroom). The young men and women in Ubuntu Academy arrived from Congo, Benin, Zimbabwe, El Salvador, Equador, Cameroon, and Rwanda. They arrived from Bridgeport and they currently attend a school that provides multiple challenges too large to detail in this post. Still, they are like you - they see and want a better world for themselves. Your willingness to support them and their language acquisition helped them to be better prepared for the challenges of tomorrow. The same is true for the 15 teachers you worked with and the students they will reach this fall.

And that's about it. I am in Canisius Hall, Rm. 15, and wish to offer each and everyone of you another handshake for what occurred yesterday at Fairfield University. The experience may only be a blip on the radar of your life's journey, but I hope the teachers and students had an influence on you in the same ways you had on them. I hope this is the beginning of many more conversations.

Martin Luther King is famous for many reasons, but I'm partial to his question, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?" Yesterday you did for others and I hope you found value in what you experienced. 

On behalf of CWP-Fairfield, thank you. Our only request is that you fight harder than you've ever fought before to bring excellence to yourself, to your team, to your families, to the university, and most importantly, to the world.


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