Part I: General Musings
I often wonder what draws us to sports. Why do we cling so desperately to every pitch, to every shot, to every tackle, and why are we such vociferous protagonists of our various teams of choice? Of course, part of our allegiance can be accounted through family traditions, civic pride (city, school, etc.), or even a particular person that may play for a given team at a given moment. However, most of our attachment to sport comes from the tacit forces at play behind the scenes. Sport in its purest form is a battle of wills, played out through the agency of human bodies. It’s a game of domination, made up of intellectual acumen, emotional endurance, physical prowess, and spiritual discipline. So, whenever we root for our various teams, we are really rooting for our team to display the highest order of these 4 dimensions, imposing their will on the other team, through the agency of physical vessels.
Through the act of competition, and players/teams pushing themselves to the limit, we in fact get to see what they are really made of inside. The competition leaves the aforementioned 4 elements bare for the entire world to see. You have no doubt heard the expression “Trials build character”? Well, in sports, “Trials REVEAL character”.
That’s why we love sports, and that is part of the reason I love City ACES. More directly, the stresses and strains required to coordinate each event routinely drudges up inner strength that I didn’t know I even possessed…until I had to call it up. In essence, it is helping me better understand myself, because the trials “reveal” what I am truly made of.
Despite my deep abiding fears and apprehension before each show, I try to live courageously as it pertains to City ACES. I am reminded daily that “courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to do what is right in the face of that fear”. So yes, I do get nervous (extremely nervous in fact)…but no, my team and I cannot stop, and WE WILL NOT FAIL.
Part II: The Heart of the Matter
“We will never have this moment again”. Those are the words that ring in my head before every City ACES show, and to be honest with you, it shakes me to my core. “We will never have this moment again”. Perhaps the phrase is a misnomer, because the show (as with life) is nothing more than a series of moments in time, but for an hour and a half, these “moments” that City ACES share with the kids can plant the seeds that could make the difference in a child’s life, FOREVER. Ponder that for a minute, and then you will begin to understand the huge weight and anxiety that befalls the entire crew the week leading up to an event, and the exhaustion that sets in for days after. Words sometimes are more than just words, and some moments hold the echo and weight of eternity within them. Some of you may think I’m being a little too dramatic, but then again, you have never attended a City ACES event.
Middle School children–That’s the age group we target, because that is where the light of hope begins to dim, and where any intervention will have the greatest impact, because if your upbringing was anything like mine, High School was too late. Some may mistakenly take the whole City ACES movement as a gimmick, utilizing high profile individuals to put on a “dog and pony” show, and then fade into the night. The short answer would be that that assessment is flat out wrong. The heart of what we do can be found in our City ACES Mentors Program (CAMP), which integrates entire schools into the mentoring network, matching each child with a responsible, and invested role model. Not one or two children, but upwards of 1,000 children at a time.
However, I’m not going to lie to you, the pep-rallies/assemblies are a huge part of what we do. Think of it as the energy that creates the inertia, or momentum, that kicks off the mentorship journey. These are the “moments in time” that will burn in their minds forever, serving as a mental marker, reminding them that education is serious, and there are people out there who are serious about them achieving academically.
Let the story begin…
Part III: The Show
So we step in the middle school on a wet dreary October morning. Of all days, this was the one where traffic in DC was backed up…at 6 am in the morning! I couldn’t help but believe this was a classic case of Murphy’s Law: The worst things happening at the worst possible time. We get to the school 30 minutes late, and I immediately begin fielding texts from all our guests stating that they were on the highway running late because of the aforementioned traffic. **Dear Lord, this CANNOT be happening…not today…** However, the show must go on, and preparations continue. If all else fails, I’ve got my dj, and I’ve got Leonce Crump with me. We’ll have to go to war on our own if it comes down to it.
We have about 30 minutes before the show kicks off, and I happen to look up just in time to see Shayna Rudd and her entourage walking in. You may know Shayna better by the title of Ms. Black America. As beautiful as she is in pictures, she’s even more beautiful in real life, as well as poised and sophisticated. Loved it! Almost there, just waiting on Lavar Arrington, along my boys Josh Gaines and Tyrell Sales to make it through traffic **Dear Lord, please, please, please let them make it on time**. Clock strikes 9:20, which means there’s 10 minutes to go time. Shadows darken the doorway, and it looks like the entire defensive line of your favorite football team just appeared, as Josh, Tyrell, and Lavar touch down in the auditorium. It was almost like a family reunion, because all of us from the initial City ACES event, waaay back in April, were back once again to go to war in DC. Relief!!
The crowd is building, and I’m hearing the excited chatter of kids as we creep towards the 9:30 mark. Time to bring it.
Lavar is the first one to take a chop at the log, letting the kids know the importance of dreaming big, and having a plan to execute that dream. He said it was never too early to dream, and no dream is out of reach. He also stressed the importance of teamwork, referring to the students, teachers, and administrators as being part of an overall squad, working together to assure the success of the students. Concluding his talk, he emphasized that students had an important role to play in this success, which requires them heeding authority, and trusting that the teachers and administrators cared about them and their wellbeing. Word to the wise.
Shayna is up next, and you will not believe the power that came forth from such a tiny, petite, vessel. You see, the thing you notice when you first meet Shayna is that she’s very regal and stately, and as such, I was expecting a conservative, ho hum speech…you know, one of those canned statements that pageant winners give, along the lines of “I want world peace…”. No, no, no! I could not have been any more wrong. This young lady brought it, and when I say brought it, I’m talking about me having to step out on stage with the DJ to make sure that I heard every word she said. It was like I was in Church, because the atmosphere was electric! She was going off on the false notions of beauty in the African American community, i.e, light skin, long hair, etc. This is THE REIGNING MS. BLACK AMERICA, reaffirming to these young ladies that they are all beautiful, and everything that may have befallen their families for generations, including dropping out of school, drug abuse, jail, etc, ended with them, right here, right now! Her refrain was: “It all ends WITH ME!!” Indeed it does. There are thousands of other kids who are in desperate need to hear her words.
A new and nice touch to our show occurred when we invited students to come onstage and explain why education was important to them. I am telling you, and have been telling you for a while now, that our children are not stupid or dumb, by any stretch of the imagination. The responses were so well thought out and articulated, that at one point I just burst out with a spontaneous exclamation of pride, which Tim and Leonce persistently teased me for as soon as the show was over. Hey, I’ve seen the future in these children, and based on what I saw, the future is bright, so please forgive me if I get a little happy!
Cornell, aka DJ Godfather, then proceeded to give his testimony on why education was important to him, and his life story about trials, tribulations, and redemption. A very real and poignant moment that the children needed to hear. DJ has lived the life, and has the scars to prove it. His beseeching words ring true to the kids because his story is not said in isolation. It echoed the warnings and exhortations delivered throughout the program, providing a real life embodiment of someone who chose to forsake the call of the streets, and live a responsible life of true meaning.
As usual Leonce closed us out. We used to call him the “Gentle Giant” in college, but I think I’m going to change his name to “Fine Wine”, because as we do show after show, he just keeps getting better and better. His speech (Dream Makers and Dream Breakers) covered the material he had used in previous cities, and is the impetus for the title of our tour, namely “The City ACES Dream Makers and Dream Breakers Tour: Why Education is key”. I told Leo afterwards that this was his strongest speech to date (bearing in mind that the other speeches had been great too!). The delivery, the placement, the message…I couldn’t have asked for a better lineup for DC.
Baltimore is next, but we will also be coming to a city near you soon, including: Chicago, NYC, Atlanta, LA, Oakland, Charlotte, Phoenix, Harrisburg, Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Houston.