Good Sunday afternoon.
Labels. Look beyond them. Look past them. Find the person. Be present.
As a young man, I was a member of the greatest example of a youth organization ever. The Black Knights. Nope, not black as in black people. Team color. The mighty and powerful BLACK & GOLD of the Arlington County Black Knights. What made this organization so great? The people. The amazing people. The loving, inspirational, well meaning, label free people. The coaches were diverse in a time where diverse was not the norm. In the 60's and 70's in South Arlington. (Shout out to Lower Arlington !) Imagine in a time of labels and boundaries, this organization managed to cross boundaries, to cross communities, and created an environment where amazing families could coexist and prosper. They loved. It was wonderful. Coaches of every color, every religion, leading players from different schools and backgrounds. These coaches were policemen, teachers, firemen, lawyers, doctors, and more. They were taxis for players without rides, meal buyers, doctors, and psychologists for us kids. Team moms treating all of their sons the same, loving them with care and guidance. All of the sisters of the community standing cheering loud and proud. Every sport was a part of the joy, and every game was a carnival event with energy and fun. You may not have been aware of why it was special, you just knew that it was. These people, no matter where they are now, still smile and glow when the Mighty Knights are mentioned.
I say that to say this. One year, I was late registering to play football. I had resigned that I was not going to play that year. I was approached by a police officer as I played touch football out front of my house. I had not done anything wrong, but I went up to the car to see what I had done. The officer reached out his hand and said "you are pretty fast, why arent you at football practice?" I told him why, and he said that he was a football coach for the Fraternal Order of Police, and he needed some players my age. I was not aware of the FOP, and I had not considered that there was any football outside of the Black & Gold, so I had no idea what to say. He asked my name and number, and said that he would call me. He did. That night. He asked if I knew any other players, and said that he would be there tomorrow to pick me up for weigh in, and we would go from there.
We were the FOP Eagles. A rag tag group of athletes who had somehow fallen through the cracks. Some decent players. A big armed QB, a power runner, some angry linebackers, and myself. We did okay. I think we were .500, which was a testament to our coach. His name was Barry Laravie. Bear. Coach Bear. A mountain of a man, and a local policeman. He had the bark and stature of a giant. Even then he seemed 7 foot tall. But Bear showed up. He picked us all up, he dropped us all off. He bought us cleats and t shirts in case we did not have the money. He bought burgers to practice to make sure that we ate. He gave all of the extra burgers to the last kid he dropped off. That was usually me.
Those rides home were amazing. He did not use his police car. He used his own. He took the risk of being a white man driving through black neighborhoods, often at night. But what made his effort more amazing was the conversations. He and every other coach who chose to drive us black kids home, God Bless them. It wasnt easy or comfortable. But he did it. And he shared. He shared secrets of how tough it was to do the job, how amazing it was to do the job, and how proud he was of doing the job. He also told me who to look out for, and who to stay away from. He pointed out good people and bad. He also pointed out good policemen and bad. He warned me about staying out of certain areas, to stay away from certain signs that I would not be safe or welcomed. But what he showed me most, was love. He cared. I remember asking why he did it, and his answer was "...because you let me. You didnt have to talk to me or come play for me, but you did. I appreciated it so much because once you were on board, it was easier to get other players." He asked why I said yes, and the answer was that white officers do not normally pull up and smile at us, so it felt safe. He smiled. I smiled.
I say this now, and to be clear, I owe a lot to Coach Bear. I owe a lot to his band of police brothers who took care of us. I owe them for giving me info on survival, and on care. He and I both could have labelled the other and lost out. We managed to say yes. It worked out. He and I both fully understood that this was not always the intent, purpose, circumstances, or outcome of such meetings between police and black males. But for this one fork in the road in time, it worked. For all of the times that it didnt, I am glad that it did.
Thank you Coach Bear. Thank you for all of the other Coach Bear's in the world. The power of a good officer of the law is known. The power of the other is as well.
Be a Coach Bear wont you?
And by the way... Go Black Knights Go FOP Eagles!