A New Year: One Day at a Time

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On Marcus Garvey Avenue. Photo by Anthony Dickens 

Approaching the new year is always a complicated process for me. I try to treat it like any other day, but it’s more than that. As a person who constantly self-reflects; how can I view the turning of a new calendar year as something simple or trivial?

As someone who loves history, dates and timelines are very important. Knowing when something happened in relation to other significant events, creates a sense of context and relevance in which all things are connected. For example, I was born in 1980. That’s the same year that Ronald Reagan was elected, the U.S. boycotted the summer Olympics, the Mariel boatlift resulted in the arrival of over one hundred thousand Cubans into Miami and my neighborhood of Liberty City (Miami)  burned for nearly a week after the McDuffie riots; one of the worst riots in the city’s history. Each year is shaped by the events that take place within them. Some years stand out more than others, as a result of the impact of those events. 2016 will be remembered for all the celebrity deaths and the election of Donald Trump. What will 2017 be remembered for?

Usually a few days before January 1st I hunker down to jot all the awesome feats that I plan to accomplish in the upcoming year. The list can become quite ambitious some years, while fluffy in other years. Open-ended goals like read more, exercise more and saving more, never actually seem attainable. Furthermore, if I don’t get started right away, then I probably won’t start at all, giving up on my resolutions before Valentine’s Day. This year I already read a status on social media that said, “I already messed up this year, but I’m ready for 2018.” We’re not even out of the first week of January for crying out loud.

Now, what I won’t do is declare my fate on the results of my annual to-do list. I also won’t pretend as if this isn’t a great opportunity to refocus and recharge. This New Year I’m just going to go for it. I’m going to remain committed to chasing my dreams. Your dreams don’t change from year to year; just your commitment to them do. Sometimes life changes our trajectory, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still pursue your passion.

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Laughter is a good thing. Photo by Anthony Dickens

As far as I know, you only get one chance at life. Why not give it your all? Just before the new year, I received word that one of my football players was diagnosed with leukemia. His name is Tariq and he’s a very gifted athlete. The news shocked all the coaches. Tariq had an amazing season, as one of the best players in the city. After suffering from severe chronic headaches, he eventually went to see his doctor. When the results of his blood-work came back, he was asked to return to the hospital and hasn’t left since.

Just imagine, at the age of 17 years old, having your entire life ahead of you and the next day being told that you have cancer. Though I’ve only known Tariq for a few months, we have always had a mutual respect for each other. I’d give him a few tips here and there and sometimes cover him practice. I had to go by the hospital and show my support; especially at a time like this. As I visited with him I couldn’t help but admire his courage and strength. He’s a fighter on the field and a fighter in life.

Some of his friends and teammates had also come by to see him. You could see the concern and fear in their eyes. One of the young men begin to shed tears as the time passed. From his hospital bed, with tubes in his arms, Tariq calmly and confidently said, “Don’t cry…” The young man looked up at Tariq and nodded his head.

Each day is a blessing and every year is a milestone. I pray that Tariq pulls through and that he gets the chance to celebrate many more New Years to come. In the meantime I am committed to living my best life, one day at a time.

 

A Coach’s Joy

 

After a long challenging week at work, coupled with a late Friday night at happy hour, I tried my best to wake up early on Saturday morning, in order to hold on to a promise that I had made. The one week that I showed up late for practice, is the only time we lost. During my post-game speech, I apologized to my athletes and their parents. I promised them, that it would never happen again. How could I hold my team accountable if I wasn’t discipline enough to be punctual myself?

We haven’t looked back ever since. And on we are on a five game winning streak. Next week we play our archrivals; a well coached team from Williamsburg, who has won the league championship; a few times. In my four years as head coach, I have yet to beat them, let alone the championship.

Three seasons ago, we lost to them in the finals, on the last play of the game. Even though we are the favorites this year, we cannot afford to take anyone lightly. I’m sure that my rival coach has some tricks up her sleeves.

There are a few kids on my roster who have been with me since they were 5th graders. It would be nice to send them off as seniors, with a championship trophy.

As an athlete, nothing felt better than winning. In college I remember being filled with tears of joy after making a game-winning play. Now that I am a coach, my joys as a player don’t even compare.
nice game

Giving Back

I was out celebrating with good friends the night before. We decided to meet up in the city for drinks and good music. I had a great time.

We joked around , partied and recited old rap lyrics, as the DJ spent hip-hop classics like Tribe Called Quest and Leader’s of the New School’s “Scenario” and “Slam” by Onyx. I felt like I had traveled back in time, to 1993.

As the night wound down, I realized that I had to get up in the morning to supervise three middle school basketball games.  It was a struggle to say the least. An hour subway commute from Harlem to  Brooklyn on a crisp Saturday morning is not exactly what one might call fantastic voyage.

I was running a little late because of typical weekend service in Brooklyn. No trains were available for several stops, so I had to take a shuttle to my final destination. Once I arrived at the school, I immediately began to set up. The gym was already stating to fill up with families and athletes from the other schools. The neighborhoods of Bushwick, East New York and Williamsburg had all converged on our gym in Crown Heights.

As the games played on, I finally relaxed and enjoyed the scene. A peace came over me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was home. Very few things bring me happiness like serving my people and my community. Mothers and fathers got an opportunity to watch their sons and daughters play basketball on a Saturday morning. The countless smiles, cheers and happy faces made me feel good. I guess this is important to me because even though I played high school and college athletics, I always wanted my family see me compete, but they never did. To look up in the crowd and see your mother cheering you on must feel awesome; I can only imagine.

African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.
African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday mornings, children in Crown Heights can be out getting into who knows what. But not these kids, they are with us, being kids, they are safe, working in tandem with their peers and learning to be part of a team.

It was tough, just functioning on a few hours of sleep, but it is always worth it. The next Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Lisa Leslie could be playing at our gym and I was responsible for giving them the safe space to realize their talents. Someone did it for me. So how could I not give back? Personally, I suck at basketball. Football and track were my sports, but I understand the importance of giving children the opportunity to discover their abilities. I get to do that. All it takes is a key,  a light switch and a cup of coffee.

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The Impact a Coach Can Make

Now that I am in my 10th year of teaching and coaching, I am truly beginning to see the impact that I have had on the lives of my students. There is no greater feeling in the world, than to see your students go on to be successful adults. One of my former athletes sent this email to me a few weeks ago. The timing could not have been better. It was after a long and challenging work at week.

Everyday I feel like giving up, throwing it all way. At times I can’t find my inner strength to keep moving forward. To keep running to keep studying. Giving up is so easy to do, but than I realize nothing in life is easy. Coach I just want to say thank you, thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I remember when I first joined your team, when I first started running you taught me more than form running, more than breathing exercise or drills, you taught me about life, every time I now want to give up stop running or even stop going to school I think of you , you effected my life more than you will ever know, you were like the father that I never had. I really just wanted to take the time out and say thank you. I know you probably are very disappointed in me and the thought of that urks me because I know I could of been way further out then where I am at now and for that Im sorry I know you saw more in me, it was always there I just never saw it. Well now I’m running again and it’s not easy at all but one thing I won’t do is give up. THANK YOU DADDY !

If it was not for sports, I am not sure where I would be today. We had very few options where I am from. My grades were not good enough to earn a scholarship to college, but I was athletic enough to earn a shot at college football and that was my path to higher education.

As a teacher, I understand that many of my students need sports and extracurricular, just as much as they need math and English. They need coaches, just as much as they need teachers.

Athletics can test your character and leadership the way no state test or final exam ever could. It is through teamwork that young people truly learn life’s lessons.

I am fortunate to have a coach who believed in me, when I did not believe in myself, a coach who never gave up on me. When I think about all of those who did not “make it,” maybe they just needed someone to push them. Maybe they just needed a coach.

In the communities that I serve, it may sound cliche’ but I am a role model, a mentor and big brother. In some cases a father figure, to those who don’t have fathers at home. It is a very important role and one can never take it lightly. Just look at the impact that I made and I did not even realize it.

2009 Florida State High School Track and Field State Finals, Girls 4×800 Relay 4th place