My daughter is about to finish up second grade and has been in the same public school district since Pre-K. Since that time the school she attends has had a program designed to get fathers involved. During Kindergarten and 1st grade I was proud to serve several times. The program gives the volunteers a badge and shirt to wear while directing traffic, securing the school and helping with lunch, as well as reading to classes and coaching individual students. Of course the real reward was getting to see my daughter throughout the day and enjoying her excitement to see me too (I know that one day soon she won’t necessarily be as excited)!
As a six-foot-tall black man I was able to help improve the responses from some of the more rowdy children to their teachers and I know they appreciated me being there! Through I absolutely loved every minute of serving at the school, there were two things I noticed… I was always the only black man and it was clear my appearance made many uncomfortable. It is disheartening when you are doing something so positive (like volunteering) but your mere appearance causes distrust, intimidation and belittling looks from adults who no doubt, mean well.
This scenario played out further when one week my daughter’s teacher personally invited me to come help out in her class; I gladly accepted. I went to the school the next day as planned to volunteer and was told by the front desk I couldn’t. I was totally caught off guard and inquired why I wasn’t allowed to serve; the reason the staff person gave was that I had already served multiple times that year. Still confused, I explained further that my daughter’s teacher had extended a personal invitation and was still met with a “No”. Instead of making a scene or being disruptive I decided it was best to leave. You can imagine the bewilderment, frustration and embarrassment I felt. This made no sense, but when you are dark skinned and living in Oklahoma, this situation is something you have to deal with.
I went home and emailed my daughter’s teacher expressing my gratitude for her invitation to serve, but that I was told I couldn’t come into the classroom. My daughter’s teacher is white and her response was one of the reasons I love teachers. She knew what I had to be feeling. She replied with remorse and empathy telling me this had never happened before. She had no explanation but sincerely apologized. I knew this was out of her control, but I honestly appreciated her willingness to consider what might have been the issue.
My favorite basketball player is Allen Iverson. As one of the most challenging players to date, I will argue Iverson had a bigger cultural impact on the NBA than Michael Jordan. He was unapologetically who he was: tattoos, braids, jewelry, extreme competitor, outspoken and nobody worked harder on the floor. Then comes Westbrook, who I feel is similar to Iverson…high-end fashion, passion for the game, and an extreme competitor; but here is one difference, Iverson was in the major city of Philadelphia and Westbrook is in the small market of Oklahoma City.
As I am processing my experience of being ejected from my daughter’s school, I realized that the way Westbrook has embraced Oklahoma warms my heart. Though he is from a California inner city he has unapologetically embraced Oklahoma. The truth is Oklahoma needs Westbrook. Why? Well, I say, “WHY NOT”?! 😂 Oklahoma needs to see a different appearance of success. Westbrook’s style, aggression, fashion sense, nappy fro, and no smiling “I wish you would mentality”, are all things that can make the average suburban family in Oklahoma uncomfortable. The truth is, if Westbrook walked down most streets in and throughout the state of Oklahoma, doors would get locked. In everyday life, we can see that simply upbringing and culture can foster a sense of fear of things that are different; but a cure to those mental models is experiencing and challenging our negative stereotypes.
We watched one of the the greatest season in NBA history. Less than a year removed from one of the biggest trade disappointments and surprises in NBA history, Westbrook has had the character to push on. It takes somebody who has been through what Westbrook has been through to be passionate, unapologetic, proud of who he is, full of confidence and character. When you’re somebody like me who made it out of the worst neighborhoods in North Memphis or Westbrook who made it out in Cali; don’t forget that although our appearance and approach are different, we might just be the next one to make history.
Stream my single “Oklahoma Proud” – https://open.spotify.com/track/7odFxO4pqgh5MY1W3Agp7A
Anthony Flagg a.k.a FEDEL