Tag: courage

Real Heroes: Jason Collins, Magic Johnson, and Ryan White

Posted on April 30, 2013 by

English: Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson and ...

English: Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson and Boston Celtics Larry Bird in Game two of the 1985 NBA Finals at Boston Garden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 1992.  Magic Johnson, recently retired from the NBA, announces that he is HIV-positive.  America is just learning about AIDS, and is frightened. The gay communities are plagued with disease and seeing their community devastated by HIV related illnesses and death. It isn’t cool to come out-certainly not for sports figures, celebrities, or anyone else fearing discrimination from the public.

I remember when Magic made his historic announcement. I was sitting at my grandparent’s kitchen table in Sherman Oaks, California, reading the paper to my grandfather, and noticing that, despite the generation gap, he didn’t flinch when the news came out. I remember admiring Magic’s amazing courage to disclose his ‘secret’, and wondering how that would impact our culture. At this time, HIV was a ‘gay disease’, and I remember thinking Magic had amazing courage to put himself in the same category.

I was a  young teacher at the time, and had recently shared a book about Ryan White with my middle school class. Ryan White died of AIDS in 1990 at the age of eighteen, after being expelled from his middle school due to his HIV-infection. I didn’t think twice about the controversial nature of the book; I simply thought this was a story that needed to be shared. I had no political or personal motivation, other than I believed that knowledge is the best education, and when we know more we can do more. I knew HIV wasn’t a ‘gay disease’, but feared I was in the minority at my school.

English: This photo of Ryan White was taken by...

English: This photo of Ryan White was taken by me (Wildhartlivie) in the spring of 1989 at a fund raising event in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Around the same time, Tommy Lasorda, the famous manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, faced his own personal tragedy when his son, Tommy Junior, died at the age of thirty-three. When interviewed by journalist Peter Richmond, Lasorda reacted strongly to the idea that his son was gay:

“Back in his suite, in the residence area of Dodgertown, I ask him if it was difficult having a gay son.

“My son wasn’t gay,” he says evenly, no anger. “No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a fuckin’ monkey, too. That’s not the fuckin’ truth. That’s not the truth.”

I ask him if he read in the same paper that his son had died of AIDS.

“That’s not true,” he says.

I say that I thought a step forward had been taken by Magic Johnson’s disclosure of his own HIV infection, that that’s why some people in Los Angeles expected him to…

“Hey,” he says. “I don’t care what people…I know what my son died of. I know what he died of. The doctor put out a report of how he died. He died of pneumonia.””

How sad to lose your son at such a young age, and feel such shame over his sexual identity that even in his death, his father felt compelled to be the ‘tough guy’ and deny everything. What a lost opportunity for so many young athletes to feel ok about themselves and their sexual orientation. How many lives could have been saved if more people had the courage to tell the truth? How much progress could have been made if more people could have lived their lives openly and honestly?

Fast forward to 2013. Jason Collins, of the Washington Wizards, makes an announcement:

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

When I read Collins’ statement, I immediately flashed back to Magic Johnson and remembered the panic many felt about his HIV status in the 90s-could he infect other athletes through sweating or contact with them? Would he be treated the same now that he was infected with the ‘gay disease’?

And then I felt admiration for Collins. His courage is honorable; to come out as the first openly gay athlete takes not only a tremendous amount of self-confidence, but also self-love. He isn’t afraid of the repercussions of his statement, and if he is, he doesn’t show it. The public sees a strong, masculine, successful athlete who just happens to be gay. At 7’, 255 pounds, he may break the ‘gay stereotype’ that is still perpetuated by some.

Another step forwards in this story. Another moment in time, bound to mark history. Another brave face to admire and look up to.

And all the time I’m feeling like we are moving forward with our society becoming more tolerant and accepting of sexuality and differences, I’m also feeling sad that it’s even an issue at all. I wish we could forget about what people do in their bedrooms-gay and straight-and get to the real important issues: how we treat each other and move through the world together.

Thank you Magic, Tommy, Ryan and Jason. Thank you for having courage, for not being afraid to share your reality, and for helping to teach our children of the 21st century. You are real heroes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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What do Kids, Parents, and Dreamers Have in Common with MLK and President Obama?

Posted on January 21, 2013 by

12 10 trip DC 100

I’m sitting in my study on an overcast Monday morning.  The sun came up a while ago, but went unnoticed by me as I busily wrote in my new journal, sketching out writing goals for 2013 along with ideas, hopes and worries.  I’m trying to move forward, you see.

As I covered the fresh, lined pages with scribbles, clusters and words coming from deep inside, the pre-inaugural images played alongside, just intriguing enough to catch my attention occasionally.  I watch video from FDR, Reagan and Obama’s past inaugural addresses, and  the words, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” catch my ear, just enough to cause me to leave my dreams and listen more intently.  JFK flashes, his memorable, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

12 10 iphone 101

And then President Obama, reminding us that, “This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence. The knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man, whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant, can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

These great statements came from men of differing backgrounds, political parties, races and religions.  While they varied greatly in their presidencies, they all share the common message of ordinary, everyday courage.  I drift away from my own goals, and begin to toss this idea around in my mind.

As today’s American parents, we grew up in the shadow of these words.  We trust our children will be safe and return to us as they leave the house each day.  We agonize over how to handle their failures and successes in order to nurture them into compassionate, confident human beings.  We work hard and try to make good choices to steer our children in the right direction.

Daily, we ask our children to do their best.  We ask them to go to school, follow the rules, and face down peer pressure.  We believe they will handle puberty, relationships, and their sexuality with maturity.  We expect they will work with all teachers, complete projects and assignments with above-average scores, and show their inner warriors on sports teams.  They will go to college, graduate and have a career.

And the dreamers – the writers, the musicians, the artists that enhance and elevate our thinking through their imaginations.  We are in awe of those spirits who have the audacity to believe that someone else will listen to them, read their words, or look at their dreams as they lay them before us in all their unprotected glory.

12 10 trip DC 086As I walked Capitol Mall in 2012 for the first time in my life, images from history books swirled through my mind. I became lost in the stories, the events, and the courage of so many men and women who had stood precisely in my location.  Their stories are not all famous, and many have gone unknown amidst the pomp and circumstance of our nation.  As I gazed up at the MLK Memorial and read the inscriptions of hope, I realized that they are all there with me, really.  Their desires to live and die for their convictions.  Their courage in the face of unknown consequences.  Their belief of living in the present, and their audacity to hope that somehow, their very existence in this world could bring change and move us forward as a country and a people.

Turning back to the news, I realize I haven’t missed much.  The rituals continue, the reporters recall each move of everyone-who-is-anyone in Washington.  The people along the parade route cheer, wave, and smile as they catch a glimpse of the President as he drives by. This time, they vow, we were not going to miss it.  We will do whatever it takes to be a part of history.

What I think they’re missing is that they already are.  Kids, parents, and dreamers who line the Mall today are not only the past, but also the future.  FDR, JFK, MLK and Obama are simply the embodiment of the collective courage of America.  They are one of billions who walk out their door each day and face extraordinary, everyday courage.  It is what we have in common, and what will move us forward as a country.

Have courage.  Do what Martin Luther King Jr. asked, and remember, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.

Have courage.  Make history.  Move forward.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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