Hey Black Family,
This particular Saturday (July 25th,2009) that just passed was so special for me and I didn't even know it would be a special day!
First, let me give you some back story by saying that I founded the Paddelball Saturdays with Da Bruthaz NYC 5 years ago in the summer of 2005 with my good friend Herb. We play most every Saturday at Morningside Park (122nd Street and Morningside Avenue) in Harlem from 11AM until... (usually 5PM). As I stated in one of my blog entries called And This Too Shall Pass... (which was a tribute to E. Lynn Harris who passed away late last week), I was frustrated for years that I couldn't find Black same gender loving ("SGL" for short) bruthaz in my circles who were authentically interested in playing sports. This dilemma could easily be explored in a workshop (which I have been asked to do) because a lot of my friends simply could not or did not want to explore or play sports in gym class (otherwise known as "PE" or Physical Education) in (public) school when they were kids. There is some woundedness surrounding this issue which is why I was asked to do one day (which I might). And, nah, I'm not a clinician of any sort, but because I do love sports someone thought I would have a thoughtful empathic slant on it in regard to my SGL bruthaz.
From conversations I've had with bruthaz, the woundedness surrounding Black SGL bruthaz and sports is the idea of not having the interest to play them or not excelling at them and then being picked on by one's peers, or you know the deal where the two captains are picking players to be on their team and someone winds up being picked last, which meant oftentimes, you weren't the best player (yeah, I've been there) and weren't of value. But there you are waiting, and because the sides needed to be even, you were picked last, or you weren't picked at all because there were an odd number of kids and thus you were the odd person out and had to sit (legs crossed) and watch (humiliated).
So what makes this disaster in a Black kid's life any different than any other Black kids growing up? Well, the difference is if you're a Black kid who not only is perceived as not being a good player, but you exhibit effeminate tendencies (the so-called opposite of what a MAN should be even though we are growing up as BOYS) and called a faggot or a punk which of course is completely isolating and hurtful just compounds one's self-worth to a lower level that much more. So the threads of Black boyhood, and what it means to be a strong young man combined with sports is something that some adult Black SGL men don't look back on fondly from their childhood. Though I got yelled at for not always playing well (the sport of wiffel ball comes to mind), I can't identify with being called out for being perceived as effeminate, but like many other Black boys, I certainly didn't want to be called out for being a sissy, faggot or punk. It didn't matter if you were homosexual or not - just the reputation of being called those names was hell for ya (at least for me in my experience in the hood of Brooklyn). And so I suspect some of these past demons, and other not so deep reasons is part of the reason why I had (have) so much trouble rallying bruthaz for Paddleball Saturdays with Da Bruthaz NYC.
So, when I self-accepted my homosexuality back in May 1997, from that point forward until 2005, it was a process of frustration as my circles of SGL bruthaz didn't talk much about sports (I LOVE the NFL), much less playing them! I then made a last attempt (and then wouldn't mention it anymore - why bother?) at an ADODI meeting here in New York as an community announcement. My friend Herb said he was interested and that's how Paddleball Saturdays with Da Bruthaz NYC got started. We recruited a few more bruthaz and 5 years later in 2009 here we are still strong.
So, coming full circle, what made Saturday's paddleball session so much FUN, special and rewarding was the fact that one of my paddleball buddies unexpectedly stopped by with a boy that he has been mentoring for sometime now through a mentoring program in Harlem, NYC. Though I knew my friend was mentoring a young male Black child, it really crystallized for me to see the how my friend interacted with the young kid (he may have been 12, I think). So as the rest of us played paddleball in doubles, my friend would be on the other side of the wall and teaching his mentee to play. Then after a while they came over to us and played with us.
Interestingly enough, there was another kid who was standing by an opening in the fence and watching us as we played. His family was barbecuing nearby and he was very quiet and stood on the outside of the opening, but crouching down to see us play. At one point the ball went sailing over the wall (nah, it wasn't me who hit it over, LOL!) and I went to get the ball. When I came back with the ball I passed by the kid and I stuck out my hand in a "low five" position expecting him to slap my hand with a "high five". He just stood there and looked at me like I was crazy. I said "okaaaaaay" to myself and went back to the court to finish out the game. I figured the kid was shy or something, or he was employing the wiseful don't-interact-with-strangers procedure. LOL!
After one of our games was over, we got my friend's young mentee involved in a new doubles match and the mentee was on my side - I was thrilled to have him as a partner, you have no idea!!!!! So just before we started the game, the kid who was quiet by the opening of the fence was now on our side of the opening said "I wanna play". I quickly thought to myself, "Aaaahhh! Now he's being friendly and wants to play" and I said something like, "Okay, you can play after this game is over". And he waited patiently. What was interesting was that the ball sailed over the wall quite a few times (Nope! Again, it wasn't me! LOL!) and the kid would race after the ball and throw it back to me. (which was great for me because I was building up a sweat as it was playing the game! LOL!). So, the little dynamic re-learned is that it takes some people time to warm up to you.
In the next game we had both kids playing. The mentee was on my side and the other kid was playing with another friend I invited for the first time, so the sides were pretty even. Man! Talk about FUN! Us older bruthaz were really making a concerted effort to teach proper form and mechanics to the two little guys on how to aim and hit the ball against the wall with the paddles. It was the first time we had kids playing with us and we were all happy! We (the adult bruthaz) would cheer when the kids did well and you had to see the smile on the kids' faces when they did something well. This was one of the ultimate ways of giving back to the Black community with older Black SGL men (YES! I SAY THAT PROUDLY!) interacting and teaching... MENTORING, the Black youth in the community! And I had a most profound respect for my friend who was participating in the Harlem program to mentor his kid! Though a lot of times the Black SGL collective is minimized by the larger Black community (the church being one example) by those ridiculous rigorous religious zealots (I'm being nice! And they know who they are!), the Black SGL collective contributes HIGHLY to the African Diaspora as a whole and we are the GATEKEEPERS that hold a lot of the community together.
We told the other kid and one of his guardians (that was BBQing) that we'd be here the following Saturday and the guardian smiled in approval. It was truly a beautiful and spectacular day ---> Paddleball Saturdays with Da Bruthaz NYC: KIDS DAY!!!!!
Same gender loving bruthaz interested in chillin' with us are highly encouraged to come check us out. All skill levels from novice/no experience to advanced players are welcomed as well as spectators!
What To Bring...
(1A) A Bottle or Canteen of Water with or without ice
(and/or Gatorade, Glaceau Vitamin Water or Glaceau Fruit Water which all have low sugars)
(1B) A sandwich and/or fruit (something healthy in case you get hungry)
(2) A Towel
(3) Sneakers and sweat pants/shorts/jeans
We Have a Limited Amount of Extra Paddles For People To Use If They Don't Own One. So don't let that stop YOU from coming out to play.
Come Brotherhood & Fellowship With other Black SGL Men @ Morningside Park @ 122nd Street & Morningside Avenue
DIRECTIONS: "A", "C", "D" or # 1 Train to 125th Street - Walk 4 to 5 Blocks to Da Park in Harlem, USA!!!
PLEASE CHECK the MTA/New York City Transit's website for Weekend Service Advisories for possible train changes due to necessary track work and signal upgrades.
NOTE: If for any reason the weather is not good (such as rain) on any given Saturday, then the game will be canceled and we'll rebound for the following Saturday. In some exceptions, we may play the next day on Sunday. The best thing to do is email me Friday evening at BIG.ROD02[at]GMAIL.COM