respect

Why Arthur Ashe Would’ve Been Happy With Caitlyn Jenner Winning The Courage Award

When I first found out on June 3rd that Caitlyn Jenner would be awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards, I was a bit perplexed.

I knew that she would be a powerful icon for the transgender movement. I knew that with her brand and the image of her family, she would be making a big sacrifice in choosing to live her life a different way. I have the utmost respect for her decision and I didn’t, for a second, doubt her courage.

At the same time, I had the same big question as anyone else: What the heck does any of this have to do with sports? With big stories around the indelible impact of Devon Still and Lauren Hill’s courage, it was hard to figure out why a former decathlon athlete who had long been removed from sports-related headlines would suddenly deserve this honor.

I soon realized my critique was innocuous compared to what I began to see on social media.

It didn’t help that Caitlyn Jenner had long been affiliated with the Kardashians, a family known for publicity and unique capitalist opportunities, or that the announcement came very close to a Vanity Fair cover that had not allowed much time for society to process or educate themselves on the meaning of the transformation at all. As expected, many chimed in to announce more deserving winners and pictures of army soldiers and cancer patients. Others threw in words like “freak”, “gross”, “disgusting”, “monster” and other hateful comments with no relation to the award. An extreme low.

The most intriguing comments I saw were related to Arthur Ashe himself.

I was curious. I looked up Arthur Ashe’s story and what his thoughts would have been to Caitlyn Jenner as a recipient.

Many know Arthur Ashe as a reputable tennis player but few know why he became the namesake of an award related to courage. In September of 1988, after receiving a surgery, Ashe was discovered to be HIV positive through a complication from blood transfusion. For years, he and his wife kept his illness private for the sake of his young daughter. It wasn’t until 1992 that Ashe decided to go public with his illness and became an advocate, working to raise awareness of the virus and to clear up common misconceptions about his diagnosis and disease. He started the Arthur Ashe foundation for defeating AIDs and committed to working for resources and funding to build support. This was at a time when there was still confusion around who could contract it and how to interact with those who had it.

There was a large stigma especially around the fact it was mostly homosexuals who could contract this disease. This led Ashe to interface with many members of the LGBT community throughout his fight and it was stated that he had nothing but sympathy and respect for the gay communities, often arguing in defense of their lifestyles.

My guess is no — Arthur Ashe wouldn’t have been upset. As a celebrity creating awareness for a relatively unknown disease, he would’ve had empathy for the challenge that lay ahead of Caitlyn Jenner and battling the stigma around the transgender movement. As someone who had to keep a matter private for the sake of reputation and his family, he would’ve understood Caitlyn’s struggle. As someone who spent much of his life fighting to create acceptance of a new reality for millions of others, he would’ve been smiling to see Caitlyn Jenner trying to do the same.

As for the courage award itself being awarded to those in sports, my quick research led me to another understanding: the award is not limited to athletes. By definition, the award goes to those whose contributions transcend sports. The award was won in 2009 by Nelson Mandela for his actions in South Africa to divert racial tensions. It was won in 2002 posthumously to those who diverted one of the flights during 9/11. The award has been won by cancer patients, military veterans, activists and more. If anything, this award should teach us that courage comes in many forms. Last year, Michael Sam caught similar criticism for his public announcement of homosexuality. Courage means staying brave in the face of bullets and medical treatments, but also staying brave in the face of hate, discrimination, and harmful prejudice. Courage is not a competition. In fact, courage in 2015 is starting to mean more. For Arthur Ashe, he had to brave a debilitating virus but dealt with much of the same skepticism from American society. He understood courage in many of its different forms. To think that he would have condemned this type of courage is disingenuous at best.

Whether you think someone else was more deserving of the award, it should not mean that Caitlyn Jenner was simply not a qualified candidate. I highly doubt it was a simple decision from a PR side. It was probably one that was highly scrutinized by Disney and ESPN alike. If you should criticize anyone, you can continue to criticize ESPN. Just know that many others — including the 40% of transgender people who attempt suicide at some points in their lives — count this platform as a blessing.

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What Stops Us From Changing The World?

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

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Originally published on Student Voice.

A few weeks ago, I sat on an airplane with my newest Amazon purchase open on my lap: Adam Braun’s Promise of a Pencil. Braun’s story was, without a doubt, incredible. He had traveled for a semester at sea and founded the global education organization “Pencils for Promise” at the tender age of 24, eventually leaving his job at Bain and Company in an epic saga of social entrepreneurial struggle. As I finished the last page, I was propelled into a bit of an epiphany. Here I was, close to Adam’s age. I was still young, had all the resources Adam had when he started his journey, and had a similar desire to change the world. So what was stopping me? In fact, what stops most of us from changing the world at such a young age?

I thought back to early college when I was in a phase where all I wanted to do was start a business. I remember relegating all my other career options in favor of this daring and random pursuit of entrepreneurship. The more I lamented on how to achieve results, the more I realized that I was stockpiling on one toxic resource: the “excuse”. I’m not old enough. I don’t have enough time right now. This homework isn’t doing itself. I’m not qualified enough. I don’t have enough money right now. My idea isn’t new enough. Sunday football is on. I don’t know anything about technology. I don’t know nearly enough people. I’ll just work for a few years, save up money, re-evaluate life, and then become an entrepreneur. It’s too much to learn. The list went on and on.

Our mind will believe anything we tell it. Most of the time, the excuses and reasons for procrastination alone will preclude us from doing something we feel strongly about. Ignoring the problem seems to be easier than encountering the consequences or worst case scenarios. But how do we overcome these barriers we place on ourselves? How do some people make it while others don’t?

This is where I arrived after some pondering. Part of it is perspective. “Changing the world” can sound so daunting. The idea of starting a venture and putting your entire livelihood around it can sound daunting as well. We have to start with our own personal definition of “changing the world”. We don’t always need to quit our day job. People who volunteer change the world. People who put together book drives and food recovery programs change the world. People who donate money online to causes change the world. Of course, people who start multi-national non-profits change the world too. What kind of impact do we want to make in the long-run? We don’t have to make it all at once. While thinking big is encouraged, when we think too big that we ignore pragmatism and drive ourselves into an unreachable dream, that’s when most of us tend to quit.

Second, we have to find a reason to fix everything holding us back. Money. The internet has enabled new and wild ways to fundraise. Adam Braun only started out with $25 when starting his social venture. Too much competition. Find an area that drives you and work with other collaborators in that area. We spend too much time on competition and finding that “unique idea that nobody has ever thought of in the history of ever”. Not unique enough. Changing the world doesn’t have to start with a ground-breaking idea or re-inventing the wheel. There are plenty of non-profits out there who do the same exact thing. Qualifications. The only qualification we really need is passion. It costs a lot less than a graduate degree and a thousand certifications. We have to start ignoring the guy that tells us that we need to be old and rich to be a philanthropist. If you have a passion now, don’t risk letting it rot.

Finally, we have to start connecting. Read blogs from successful young entrepreneurs. Read autobiographies from the founders of inspiring organizations we respect. Meet young people in person. Follow them on twitter. Keep learning. I follow many people my age and younger and I can always count of them for some of the most refreshing professional perspectives I get on a daily basis. It can only benefit us to use these stories as a template that age is nothing when it comes to world change.

This all puts us in a position for the hardest part: to start executing. Zak Malamed, Student Voice Founder, once wrote, “The most disrespectful thing you can say to young people is, “you are the leaders of tomorrow.” This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where young people are stigmatized to believe that there is a minimum age for being capable of changing the world.” Let’s stop succumbing to the stigma and change the paradigm for youth and real, tangible change. We don’t have to find the next “Pencils for Promise” but just create something that’s a reflection of a real, raw dedication towards a cause. Why not us?