In the movie Coach Carter, the coach is sent to a school where the student athletes are underperforming academically, which affects their eligibility for the basketball team. Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Coach Carter, is tasked to turn the players around. It’s not easy to do — the community doesn’t support academics as much as they support athletics.
Carter pours his heart out to the students, consistently encouraging them to look past their current status to see who they can become, but he is met with skepticism. Because they have never believed in their ability outside of athleticism, the students don’t believe they can perform. They were the misfits, the castouts and the forgotten. However, through Carter’s consistent investment, the hardened clay of their hearts starts to soften and he soon finds them studying in the gym. There’s this moment where he intentionally looks each player in the eye and the experience of locked eyes and fatherly emotion communicates that he is proud of them. He then turned to leave the gym and one of his athletes stood up and shouted “Hey, coach,” then echoed this line from a poem by Marianne Wilson: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
Growing up I often heard the phrase: “Your current situation is not your final destination.” Each time I heard it, it gave me encouragement to continue. I started to believe it so intensely that soon I thought I created it myself. It became my anthem.
I grew up in the projects where poverty was a way of life — and the only way we could get out was through athletics, music or academics. Seeing past our current situation required tremendous optimism because of the poverty, violence and drugs that surrounded us. My mother was a Haitian immigrant who ventured to America, leaving a Third World country to pursue the American dream. America’s projects are an improvement from her perspective. It took a lot of courage to do what she did.
Just like in the movie Coach Carter, I also had a personal coach who invested in me and taught me to not just look at the world as it is, but to envision what it could be. Coach Harrigan, one of my personal mentors, encouraged me to approach academics as seriously as athletics. As a result, studying, playing football and running track kept me off the streets where a lot of my friends were doing mischief. The power of encouragement can sometimes be the fuel to our souls — breathing life where there is death; providing hope where there is hopelessness; and courage where there is discouragement. And the most beautiful thing about encouragement is that it is free to give and free to receive. As we look past this challenging time in our lives, I challenge you to freely give encouragement to your neighbors, your friends and family.
Remember: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Not everyone has grown up in the projects or around violence, but we’re all still vicariously exposed to it through various media outlets, which feeds our fear of others, feeds our fear of life and feeds our fear of the future. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the presence of faith. So please, go do one thing that scares you today.
And for inspiration, I leave you with the rest of Wilson’s poem:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
“We often ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’
Actually, who are you NOT to be?
“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
“It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
David Prosper is a Southeast resident and an educator at the charter school, Shepherd Revolution Leadership Academy.