“But Mommy, I don’t know how to do that!” Although he didn’t yet know how to fully verbalize the complexity of his emotions, I could tell by the tone in his voice he was filled with hesitation. Our son Ethan, the eldest of three, was responding to my question if he wanted to join the local YMCA basketball team. It was true, he only had one finger and I realized he might have thought even dribbling was out of reach. However, growing up in an era before there was the Internet or, for that matter, much to watch on television, I had spent countless hours with my brothers and other neighborhood kids playing basketball in a court near our backyard.
Staring down at our five-year-old, I knew it was up to me not only to teach him how to play, but even more importantly, to believe in himself. Fortunately, we had already encouraged him to think out of the box and learn to bowl so my hope is that he was willing to try anything. The next day an early snowfall forced us to be stuck in the house all day. I had just watched the movie, “High School Musical” and couldn’t help reflecting on the song while they were playing basketball, “Get’cha Head in the Game,” which resonated so I seized the moment. “Hey, let’s practice around our kitchen island. Watch me!” As I confidently dribbled with my own sole finger forcibly guiding the ball around and around, I watched Ethan grin with anticipation. “Now my turn,” he said.
This past week was an exciting one for me. After almost a year of collaborating with the incredible folks at Scholastic Alliance Art & Writing Awards and with the support of the RBC Capital Markets (RBC) Foundation, we finally were ready to publish our two RBC Flaunt It Award winners. I was also grateful to have a talented DHIFI RBC Teen Board because I thought it critical that the winners be something that appealed to peers of the student finalists. Working from the theme, “The things that make me different, make me, me,” we were recognizing one winner from the writing portion of the contest and one winner for artistic expression.
From the start I really had no idea the level of interest, and so was happily astonished that more than 10,000 submissions were flagged by Scholastic for consideration for the RBC Flaunt It Award! Admittedly given my full-time day job, I was also thankful for Scholastic’s help in narrowing down the field for us to review. And so, when the Teen Board and I met earlier this month, we finalized the list from the top contenders and made our selections. After they left, that evening I was speaking to an old friend and expressing my excitement about chosen winners. I first mentioned how meaningful Peyton Vasquez’s piece, “The Floppy Arm” was to us. Peyton eloquently shared how his experience with cancer impacted him and his family and how he mentally (and ultimately physically) persevered. The Teen Board felt it was important to recognize Peyton’s work and give voice to children enduring illness and reaffirm that they need not feel alone in their experiences.
But then I described the first Art winner, Sydney Maddox who won for her music video. Although my friend was impressed by the video, he questioned whether it represented Don’t Hide It Flaunt It’s mission to celebrate difference. “But Meg, what makes her different?” His reaction was important to me, since I greatly value his opinion and now I was hesitant. After sleeping on it, I woke up early, re-watched Sydney’s video and re-read her accompanying statement: “I like filming this because it’s an upbeat song talking about my confidence in myself. There are not many young female rappers and this is something I do want to pursue along with filming and editing. I wrote this song in somewhat of an overly cocky way (as far as lyrics go) because sometimes I realized that its okay to be proud of yourself…you owe it to yourself.” Although the video was of Sydney and her friends at a skate park, one of the screen shots was of her holding a basketball…….and then it hit me why I felt she was a deserving winner and did, actually, serve an important goal of our mission.
While celebrating difference is certainly the overarching theme of DHIFI Inc., believing in oneself unconditionally is the key to that goal. From my own life experience, I’ve noticed repeatedly that the people most able to accept me and our sons unconditionally are those actually the most comfortable in their own skin. I truly believe that’s the secret sauce to living well with differences, both your own and those of others.
While Sydney Maddox may not look different, the minute those three boys in the video told her she couldn’t rap because she was a girl, she was made to feel different. And, like all of us when faced with judgment, Sydney had a choice. She could allow herself to be defined by others, or she could adopt a mindset to succeed. Her rapping, “I’m number one,” was Sydney’s expression of belief in herself and all the good that will follow.
Now THAT is a true flaunter and someone who deserves our recognition.
Ethan learned to play basketball that snowy morning and has spent countless hours over the past eight years playing on local teams while also honing his skills at basketball camps. Although he always encountered kids who would stare at the one-fingered kid with the excellent shot, he shrugged off those things and enjoyed the games. He believed in himself and knew that he owed it to himself to be proud of who he is. This month Ethan’s team won the League championship and he was able to put up his sole finger up with the rest of his teammates’ and declare that they were all, in fact, Number One.