I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite authors, The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. The book is about the story of Michael Oher – a kid who grew up and out of desitute poverty to become one of the most acclaimed high school and college football players in the country. Oher is now playing as an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL.
What makes Oher’s (pronounced “oar”) story unique is that he only started playing football during his Junior year in high school, and was so poor as a child that he spent most of his childhood literally wandering the streets – looking for food and a place to sleep. After being taken in by a wealthy white family (with a passion for football), they discovered his talents and helped him get back on the track – channeling his energy and providing him with the family support system he desperately needed.
I highly recommend this book, even if you are not a sports fan. It will open you eyes to the inequity that is going on around you, and help you see that we all have a role in helping other people succeed. What if Oher hadn’t been taken in by his host family? What would his life be like now? Would he even be alive?
I picked up this book after hearing Michael Gladwell talk about his most recent book, Outliers, last year, and during the Q&A after his talk he mentioned Lewis’s Blind Side. He made the comment that if all Oher’s friends from the ghetto in east Memphis (where he grew up) had the chance to play football and get the care that Oher received later in High School, they’d need two NFL’s!
We like to think that our world is incredibly efficient, and that everyone has a fair chance if they work hard, and that the best people get the best jobs. Unfortunately, this is not the case. A heck of a lot is left to chance, or just depends on those that care to make sure that those that don’t have the means or a voice, get their shot.
Similarly, I have a friend – Robyn – who is in Africa, teaching English to refugees in Rwanda for a few months. She recently wrote a blog post describing her experience. It really struck a chord with me and again points out the inequity that still exists around the world. Here is a snip from her recent post describing the refugees in the camp where she teaches:
They are smart. They are ambitious. They are passionate. They are honorable and very Christian. They want opportunities. They kept asking me what their options are for furthering their education, or coming to the States. It is still not safe in their home country, the DRC. I have no answers for them. It is not easy. They tell me the people who get resettled by UNHCR into other countries are the vulnerables: the sick, the elderly, the crippled. This is because they would likely not survive in their own countries in the event that they were repatriated. It all seems so unfair. In the US, if you study hard and demonstrate ambition and intelligence, you have opportunities. But in this case, it is the very opposite. I wish UNHCR could resettle some of these young men in Seattle. I could help them find jobs, find a church, further their English study…. The challenges seem overwhelming.
Social inequity is everywhere, if you open your eyes you’ll notice. The good thing is, the most important thing we can all do is to resolve to not be ignorant of the reality of the world around us. With ignorance of this issue left behind, we have a chance to start addressing it by going out of our way to help others and really give people a chance – especially those who might not normally get one.
We can’t just rely on our institutions and “systems” to take care of social inequity, we have to make the problem a personal one, and take individual steps to create equality wherever we can. This could be through donating money to a worthy cause, helping kids through a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, volunteering at a local charity, teaching pro-bono yoga classes, tutoring kids in needs….whatever you can do. No step is too small.