Change the Conversation.


When doing research for this post and reading through Colin Kaepernick’s 18 minute post-game transcript explaining why he sat for the American national anthem, the murder of Terence Crutcher appeared on my Twitter feed. It’s impossible for me to know what it’s like to be black and fear my car breaking down. The best I can do is read and listen. It’s still painful knowing Terence Crutcher’s death is senseless. The continued acts of police brutality throughout the United States of America are why Colin Kaepernick chose to protest in the first place.

While I was initially impressed with Kaepernick’s exploits in Super Bowl XLVII, his anthem protest is bigger than anything he does on the football field. Initially, Colin chose to sit during The Star-Spangled Banner but amended his stance to kneeling after a 90 minute conversation with teammate Eric Reid and former Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer. Colin wanted to make it clear that insulting the military was not his intention but reiterated that he is uncomfortable standing during the anthem without seeing tangible change.

Despite clearly outlining what he intends to accomplish by taking a knee, there are still many detractors who question Kaepernick’s motives. From a former NFL quarterback telling him that he’s “a backup quarterback whose job is to be quiet, and sit in the shadows,” another former NFLer saying “he’s not black,” or a current MLB athlete being downright ignorant, these statements are all problematic and don’t advance conversation about the issue. There is a bigger, more important conversation to be had than football. For the people who think that Kaepernick is simply trying to resurrect his career through off-the-field antics, I disagree. He is taking a much greater risk by speaking out due to the nature of unguaranteed contracts in the NFL and his tenuous position as a backup quarterback. It baffles me that there is more outrage over kneeling during the national anthem than the deaths of unarmed black men.

Kaepernick and the 49ers organization have both pledged $1 million each to organizations that will help foster positive change regarding racial and economic disparity and build relationships between communities and law enforcement. Colin having the support of 49ers owner Jed York is a positive development for socially conscious athletes and has already encouraged more to come forward. Being part of the multibillion dollar NFL, Kaepernick recognized the magnitude of his platform and sought to make people feel uncomfortable on a grand stage to provoke meaningful and much needed conversations.

Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Dolittle, spoke to the lack of social activism in the MLB:

As far as “I Can’t Breathe” or “Black Lives Matter” or the Kaepernick anthem demonstration, I feel uncomfortable speaking to that. I’d rather listen. Here are the facts though: The league is composed of over 60 percent white men. When so much of the league has a background or comes from a place where there might be more privilege and opportunity, it’s very difficult to relate to something they have never seen nor experienced. That’s human nature. People are slower to educate themselves and be informed about something if they have never experienced it. They might even downplay the level at which those problems exist. But that certainly doesn’t let people off the hook. My only experiences with police are when they stand guard in our bullpen or when they escort us to the airport. No one has ever questioned my legitimacy as a citizen or a homeowner or a pedestrian. But I can’t pretend it doesn’t happen just because it has never happened to me. If we are willing to have an open mind and empathize rather than immediately getting defensive, then maybe we can start a far more constructive dialogue that hopefully leads to addressing these problems.

When I read that nuanced and open-minded perspective, I am encouraged that important dialogue can take place. Rather than rushing to criticize, why not listen to Colin’s grievances and change the conversation? Accepting and trying to empathize with others will help us discover solutions much sooner than spewing incendiary remarks without thinking about the ultimate reasons for protest.

In a few weeks, I will be back coaching a basketball team of twelve to fourteen year old boys who are predominantly black and comprised of mostly minorities. I listen to their stories, see the innocence in their eyes, and witness the pure joy they experience on the basketball court twice a week. I hope that their futures will be bright and that they get an opportunity to realize their potential. It pains me that any of them could have been Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice – just being kids and having their lives taken abruptly ­­­­­­­­­without reason. Colin Kaepernick is kneeling because he sees injustice. Let’s steer the conversation towards senseless police brutality, building bridges between impoverished communities and law enforcement, having empathy for the plight of other people, developing policies that combat systemic racism and oppression, and the future for our youth.

Trick Room.

Troy & Abed

The relationship of Troy & Abed was one of my favourite things about Community. Troy, the superstar high school athlete, and Abed, the genius film savant, surprisingly fit seamlessly like puzzle pieces and developed together through their multiple post-credits sequences. Across 4+ seasons, their paired adventures ranged from anchoring a fake morning show, building pillow forts, hosting Dungeons & Dragons parties, rapping “La Bibliotheca,” and engaging in epic schoolwide paintball battles. The end was abrupt for my favourite on-screen bromance. Just memories and that signature handshake live on.

When Donald Glover left Community a few episodes into season five, it was like a gut-punch to the little-show-that-could. Never acquiring high ratings, Community was beloved by a loud, vocal minority of human beings. As a fan of Glover (and Childish Gambino), I lamented his departure but hoped he would create other content. Donald’s talent was evident through the show and in his music.

Donald Glover’s reasons for leaving Community were outlined in a series of since-deleted Instagram posts. In pen, he poured his heart out about his fears and anxieties on a hotel notepad. He was afraid that choosing to step away from Community would be a huge mistake. Early feedback on Atlanta indicates his decision was not a blunder. If Donald didn’t take the time to work on his projects and release Because The Internet, we wouldn’t have Atlanta to digest.

Atlanta is adept at social commentary while avoiding what Donald Glover has referred to as clapter – unfunny, politically correct humour. While neither a comedy nor a drama, it does contain elements of both. Earn, Paper Boi, and Darius look to get by in their hometown through Paper Boi’s budding rap career. The angst, contemplations, and self-awareness outlined in Glover’s notepad scribblings are evident in Atlanta.

Within the second episode, the main character Earn is stuck in a “waiting room.” He meets a variety of individuals and is very much a fly on the wall for the duration of his stay. Mental health, heated arguments, indecipherable stories, police brutality, and an uncomfortable seating arrangement make this the last room Earn wants to be in. Eventually he is able to leave. Physically, he is unscathed.

Earn’s situation wouldn’t allow him to exit the room like Donald Glover was able to. The former had no choice, while the latter had a difficult one. As much as it pained Donald to leave, there was something he hadn’t yet realized and would never be able to if he remained involved in Community. Atlanta hints at the potential he was scared he would never tap into.

Watching Earn involuntarily and uncomfortably listen and interact with the people around him in that waiting room was a stark contrast to him manoeuvering his way out of a different situation in the show’s Pilot. In the first episode, Earn looks to his old friend Dave to put Paper Boi in rotation for the radio station he works for. Instead, he is rebuffed and told a humourless story about a company event where Dave resorted to calling the DJ a racially charged derogatory term after playing Flo Rida songs twice in a row. Unlike when he is stuck in the waiting room, Earn is able to manipulate the situation to where he not only gets Paper Boi on the radio but forces Dave to retell his previous story in front of Paper Boi and Darius. In the second recollection of the Flo Rida situation, Earn dares Dave to use the same language he had uttered nonchalantly when Earn and Dave were alone. He doesn’t take the bait.

I haven’t been in either of Earn’s situations, but I could relate to making a decision, being placed somewhere I didn’t want to be, and having to make the best of it in some manner. I stood with the wrong people, at the wrong parties. I either forged new connections or I was given poor introductions, subjected to put downs in a one-sided wingman role, or left to befriend well-established cliques not looking to welcome newbies. I stayed for my friends but quickly recognized I would rather be anywhere else.

Sometimes it takes friendships to end to realize that though you intended to support someone, you were better off placing yourself somewhere you wanted to be. The bittersweet end can come swiftly and surprisingly but the final outcome is better for everyone. If there’s an unlocked door in the room, walk out and realize your potential elsewhere. These relationships and situations don’t have to end acrimoniously but in hindsight, there can be something to gain from both parties by letting go and starting anew. I’m not saying any of us can just leave and make something as brilliant as Atlanta, but I do believe that we can walk into much more welcoming opportunities. There’s room for growth.

Mirror, Mirror.

“Don’t be afraid to look into the eyes of what’s staring right back at you.”

Every morning, each of us is subjected to an unadulterated image of ourselves before we enter the shower. Before we groom ourselves for that day’s grind, we see our true self right in front of us. What really irks me is when someone rejects that self – rejects their imperfections, quirks, unique experiences. I’m not talking about physical appearance. What I’m referring to is our personal story.

Each of us is molded by our environments from the second we leave our mother’s womb. Through the accumulation of all our experiences, we are shaped into who we are.  Everybody that we come across is fighting or has endured a completely different, yet legitimate, battle. This variable experience isn’t in itself good or bad, it just is. We may be fed with silver spoons, not use spoons at all, are born into wealth, deal with absentee parents, have physical handicaps, or deal with family illnesses – each of these distinctive characteristics has created our essence and shaped our worldview. Realizing and recognizing this is essential.

It frustrates me when people can’t look themselves in the mirror and give constructive criticism. Instead of looking at themselves, these people look to others’ plight and judge those lives, projecting their own insecurity to someone dealing with personal struggle. It requires empathy to put one’s self in someone else’s shoes. The person you are criticizing may not have the same formative childhood, value system, or resources as you do. You don’t know their personal victories. It’s disappointing when these fundamental differences aren’t taken into account. We have navigated our lives in an exclusive manner.

Just today at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, as I was walking through the vibrant Labour Day crowd, my friend noticed the wide variety of people who had come out for the final day of the CNE. It was a simple comment, but what I admire about this friend of mine is his open-mindedness, good intentions, and big picture perspective. Even in a city as diverse as Toronto, it still surprises us that there can be such different types of people at an event. Each of those individuals and each of those families have their own history. On face value, it’s impossible to know their origin stories. The best we can do is exhibit empathy.

I remember watching the entirety of “The Wire” for the first time. I was so fascinated by the show’s systemic ruminations. The communal effects of corrupt systems of power, justice, capital, and politics were so thought-provoking. It remains the most powerful and impactful television show I’ve ever watched. “The Wire” changed me. I was captivated and would always find myself thinking about the “big picture” questions. Why is it so difficult to overcome barriers beyond our control? Why are there flaws in the justice system that results in innocent people dying? Why is this precedent being set again and again so it’s even more difficult to change policies for the better? Why is Donald Trump one of the possible options to become the president of the United States of America? “The Wire” eloquently ushered me to look beyond myself and wonder as a people: what can we do better? How can we contribute to the betterment of our fellow human beings?

One thing we can do is be honest with ourselves instead of looking down on others. All of us have our flaws. Why not continuously better ourselves and soften our judgments about people that we don’t know? We can admit that we can work on shining a better light. We can ask the mirror on our walls whether we have been the fairest of all to our fellow man and woman.