Monday, January 20, 2014

A Message for the NFL on MLK Day

I'm good at preaching. I try to practice what I go ahead and preach, but often times life gets in the way. Please tell me you understand.... However, today I have a message about the significance of the national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a role I think the National Football League can play in that. Preach on...?

As a teacher, it's easy to dish out the adages, give advice, make recommendations and more. Every year, I tell my students the same thing: "the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday isn't a day off, it's a day on." It is a day to join in one of the many church, school or community groups that have organized a "Day of Service." It's a day to do something to build justice and to live MLK's message. When I gave my annual reminder to my students on Thursday and Friday, I didn't think I would heed my own advice. I'm so glad I did.
Funny thing is, Dr. King's message: "keep moving forward" is of critical importance in XC, football and of course, life.
As written on the SI website, "To commemorate the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, we honor Dr. King with a 1.5-mile march from the CalTrain Station to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts." I drove a van of students and found a large number of others from different clubs and teams, their parents, and friends who I sat with "at the conclusion of the March for an interfaith commemoration." The San Francisco Interfaith Council, brought "together the region’s faith leaders to commemorate the vision of Dr. King and to lead participants in a spiritual reflection on his message." It reaffirmed the truth that King's message was one for all people.

The second half of the day was community service at one of two sights. I landed at the Quesada Community gardens with one expectation: I would be pulling weeds. I never knew the NFC Championship could add meaning to a task I loathe.
A great "Day On"
One reason I appreciate sports is because of the places they can take you. I have run trails all over the Bay Area. I have played basketball in gyms old and new. Golf courses are tucked into some interesting terrain. Service isn't all that different.

Located in the heart of San Francisco's Bayview district, we parked our van on a street that once hosted in-numerous drug deals on its sizable median. The crime brought violence, the violence brought pain and death, the pain and death brought despair.  As written on their website

What do you do when you live in a place so choked with pain and danger that no one seems to remember better days?

If you lived on Quesada Avenue in Bayview Hunters Point a few years back, you would have pulled down the blinds and dreaded the inevitable dash to the bus stop or your car. 

But that changed in 2002 when Annette Smith and Karl Paige started planting flowers and vegetables here and there around the block.  Other residents jumped in to help them and to create art, share history, organize block events, and commit to working together to strengthen the community where they live.   

Looking at it today, you might not know its sordid past, but it's important to understand because it's a space—a wondrous garden—worth protecting. An intentional "Day of Service" is one small way to make sure it is. 

As I was pulling weeds and packing dead leaves, I heard neighbors rehashing the Forty-Niners vs. Seahawks game in the same way that sports fans always do. Folks were raising questions, complaining about the referees, hating on Richard Sherman and Seattle's beloved "12th man." 

The more they talked the more my frustration grew. I didn't want to relive the game, but I was subject to their on-air session. I noticed something interesting though—the angrier I got, the harder I worked. The longer they complained the faster I pulled. The more they rehashed each quarter, the lighter the load seemed to me. I wish they had joined us; it would have been a very productive way to deal with 23-17 loss in the NFC Championship game.

A little can go a long way. 
I think service can be good for everyone, in the same way, exercise is of personal and social benefit.

I don't know why there isn't a national movement towards formalizing the MLK holiday as a nationwide day of service. Thinking about the power and popularity of the NFL, I believe they should be a the forefront of this effort.

Each team could easily set an example. Two weeks out from the Superbowl, it would not be hard for any football player to give but a few hours of their day to their local communities. Rather than prepare for the Pro Bowl or for those teams whose season ended one day, one week, or one month ago, today need not be a "day off," but a "day on." Glad I can preach this with a little more practice behind me. 

Photo Credits
Niner tutoring

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