Great people make great communities. Great communities make great people.
The communities that we are raised in leave deep impressions on us. We carry those forward, and share them with the world. It is important to realize that those impressions can give us an advantage. Those impressions can give us direction, motivation, goals, purpose, and identity. Those impressions can provide support, affirmations, and a mirror to who we are, and can be. These impressions, when done well, are LovePrints.
As any community would want, our wish is that our young people learn from the elders. In perfect cases, the young people learn values, work ethic, the importance of the truth, and to love themselves and others. These LovePrints become the vehicle that moves the young people forward and up. These impressions are the voices in the ear of young people who leave the community. These impressions are the things that separate one young person from another. These LovePrints can provide boundary, focus, and the answer to many of life outside of the community’s questions.
The impressions can come in whispers, shouts, hugs, smiles, pats on the back, and looks from across the field. They can be the quiet, proud mom who simply nods, or the mom at the top of the bleachers, screaming at the top of her lungs to make sure that above the noise, above the action, the young person knows that she is there for them. They can come in notes from teachers who want to make sure that you get it, or from adults in the hallway who see you wavering from the forward and up, but nudge you back onto the line towards something good.
LovePrints can come in the from of the dad who sprints home after work to change from his Clark Kent clothes to his Coach and Superman Cape. They can come from the uncle or older brother who makes time to make sure that the young people understand that these are games, and that the game is not nearly as important as the person who plays them. These impressions can come from Pastors, Mentors, neighbors, and friends. No matter where they come from, if done well, they will travel well after they are shared.
One such LovePrint for me was the giant of a man with a thunderous laugh and a booming voice. His words were strong, and they always had purpose. He could smile and make you comfortable and uneasy at the same time. He was always processing information, and constantly sharing it. He had many gifts, including his amazing kids, and he had one that sticks with me to this very day.
As a young man, I played in the Arlington County Little Leagues, and among the hundreds of parents and families that stood out to me, this one has a special place. I managed to get transferred from my neighborhood clubs in South Arlington to some schools and teams from North Arlington. At age 9, I was bused from a predominantly black neighborhood to a predominantly white one. I lost some friendships, and gained some. The people that filled those holes may or may not know that they did so. Loveprints allows me to tell them.
At the new elementary school that I was sent to, there are certain people who became dear and lifelong friends. A few were made during gym class or at recess, with sports as the common thread that brought people together. We played the games, talked about our favorite players, and tried to emulate them as best as we could. In some cases, we became teammates. In others, we became rivals. In a few cases, we became both.
I can not emphasize this enough. Often, I was the only person of color in my class at school. I usually did not get the comfort of being comfortable. I became protective. I felt like it was me against them. And then, these friendships happened. They turned on the light and made everything bright. They allowed me to have some home base to come to. I had sounding boards, mirrors, and reflections.
Dave was one of the many who I connected with, in the classroom, and on the court/field. He had this awesome way of smiling as he played. It was competitive, but not angry. We both enjoyed playing the games. We tried to understand them. We never had a discussion that was about race. We just talked. We played. We were friends. We played together on a basketball team, we played against each other during baseball season, and we joked in between basketball plays and kickball victories.
On those days where games were played, everyone in Arlington watched everyone else play. It was a marathon of sports, all in one place, and all about each other. Among those watching Dave’s games, my games, was Dave’s dad. I found out that his first name was Don because Mrs. (Joanne) Dunlap often used his first name in addressing his ability to be louder at these games than everyone else combined. He had the ability to be heard from 200 feet away, this I knew. I could hear him as I stood in centerfield, at the free throw line, and at the concession stand. DERRICK! Get your head up! (Wait, is that someone else’s dad yelling at me?) (Wait, that’s MR. DUNLAP!) Wait! (He doesn’t even coach me!) WAIT! HE’S COACHING ME! Joanne was always whispering “Don, give him a break, he doesn’t want to hear all of that! (They were both perfect. I didn’t WANT to. I NEEDED to.) She was an angel in my eyes. Another loving voice.
A reminder, this voice did not need a microphone or a speaker. It came with its own sound system and booster. It traveled above the normal voice levels of mere mortals, and it reached its selected ears with clarity and vibration. DERRICK! Settle down! Your feet are too busy! DERRICK! Finish the play! DERRICK! Great catch! Wait! Did he say great catch? He saw that! Awesome! I guess I better make more great catches. I like that a ton more than SETTLE DOWN!
I became curious as to what he said to David during his games. Get this…it was LOUDER! But, there he was, cranking out instructions, encouragement, reminders, cheers, and support. And the rest of the parents heard him, and followed. DAVID! Take the shot! DAVID! Great throw! DAVID! Meet me at the concession stand! (Yes, I am using exclamation marks to capture his spirit. He earned them!
After David’s games, or my games, Mr. Dunlap would always manage to catch me off to the side and speak to me., I pretty much could guess what he was going to say because he had said all of it ten times during the game. I always paid attention. I always had something to learn from him. It was always good. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE YOURSELF! PLAY THE GAME! RELAX! YOU PLAYED WELL TODAY! Those things were constantly said to me. I always thought how lucky and afraid Dave must be. This towering giant would stand over me and rain down wisdom and guidance. He would stand next to Dave and coach us both. Here’s the thing. He did not have to, but he did it anyway. He may not have had the time, but he made time anyway. He always did.
As I grew older, I would hear Mr. Dunlap at high school games, and the voice never wavered, it never lessened. It always showed up. At a high school baseball game my senior year, I was having a horrible night at the plate. My final at bat of the night, THE VOICE hit me with STAY BACK AND GO AWAY! STAY BACK! Well, I stayed back and lined a triple down the right field line, and as I stood on third base, THE VOICE said SETTLE DOWN! I really never had to search for the source of the voice. It was like looking for the sun. Its just there. And there he stood, smiling. It was perfect.
Years later, I have run into the Dunlap family, and its always a homecoming to me. I am pretty sure that they don’t realize that they are deeply in my blessings corner, but they are. I see their dad in them, and I recall them in him. It hits me that he is a part of the coach that I am today. His words ring out, his presence is copied, and I remember to smile when I get their attention when I call out to them.
It was not until later in life that I found out that he played basketball for Maryland. It may or may not have made a difference since he was already larger than life anyway. But it did help make sense of his aura, he energy, and his person. It only made the whole persona thing make sense. He played for Maryland. It made sense.
What I hope is that some of you reading this are the Don Dunlap’s of your young peoples lived. I hope that you are the voice, the presence, the time giver, and the parent. I hope that you are loudly loving those who are near you, and that they some day tell people about you. I hope that David and Diane understand that I am thankful that their amazing dad shared himself with me, and me with them. I appreciate that I should be to others what he was to me. I hope that anyone reading this takes the time to be Donald Dunlap to someone.
Thank you, Dave & Diane. Thank you, Joanne Dunlap, for your constant gentle hands and heart. Thank you, Don Dunlap. Your voice is carried forward with me in your LovePrints. We all know that you are still with us. When we hear your voice, and think of your face, we look forward and up. That’s where you are.
You know your mission forward. Be someone’s voice. They are out there waiting.
Go. Love Out Loud.