Despite my shortness and my whiteness, my sport growing up was basketball. I loved the action meshed with specific skills meshed with constant competition. I was good enough to play on varsity at a large high school and then to play at a small non-scholarship college.
One of the reasons I progressed as a player was the fact that I played against tougher competition. That usually meant playing against and with players of a different skin color, specifically black. Marcus, Maurice, Chinda, Tyrone, and Sedrick were names of some of the players I commonly played against.
Tyrone was one of the best players to ever come out of our town. He was a quiet guy who had the physical skills to score while also being a presence defensively and under the basket.
I had been away to college for a few years but when I was back over Christmas Break or Spring Break I would go to a local gym for a noon basketball run. These games were pseudo organized; but usually if you wanted to play you had to be picked up by some players who needed an extra hand to make a full five.
Though I had been around this gym my whole life this was an adult crowd who weren’t too impressed by my stature and color. Even though it was my turn to get into a game some maneuvering would inevitably happen and my turn would get overlooked or I would just simply be denied access to the game. In the eyes of those present, I was too white, there was no way I was going to be any good. Until Tyrone showed up.
Tyrone knew me, knew that I could shoot, played hard, would get him the ball and would be deceptively good when the game needed me to be. While all of the other guys were finding ways for me to not get on their team, Tyrone always managed to include me on his squad. And then we would rule the gym. With these games, if you win you get to stay on the floor and another team gets a chance to beat you. If you are successful, you might play three or four games in a row and never have to sit out. We consistently won and I got to ride Tyrone’s coattails.
In this environment, I was the one that was being overlooked and judged based on my skin color, I was the one that didn’t get a fair shake because of ethnicity. I needed Tyrone to recognize and understand my talents and to see me as an asset to the success he was trying to accomplish and to pick me. This made me want to play harder to show my worth and to live up to Tyrone’s expectations of my contributions. Working together we accomplished more than we could on our own.
I in no way want to equal this one experience to what many African Americans have faced their whole life, but I want to show the value of moving beyond our superficial way of thinking.
If our thoughts just stop at skin color then we will never see the potential in a person, we will never recognize true talent in a wide variety of areas, we will never get to work together. Everyone talks about creating conversations or building dialogue with those of another race and this is no doubt helpful but conversations end and dialogue moves on to another group.
What we need is to recognize the unique talents and skills that can be found in any culture and blend that with our own talent and skills to create a better neighborhood, a better church, a better school, and a better society.
Tyrone did it for me. Who can I be a Tyrone for?
What about you?