It took me months to whip up the courage to write this, weeks to calm the nerves and fears of writing this, and a few hours to come up with the title for this. I’ve been flirting with writing this for a few months, but wasn’t sure exactly how to approach this since its more of a personal story compared to one about the great athletes I cover. However, since we currently sit at a standstill during a quarantine, I thought it would be great timing to bring some info and background on myself while telling an impactful story about how one of my bases shook me to the core of all of my beliefs and values.
I have hundreds, if not thousands, of interactions with athletes, coaches, fans, parents, and other media every year. There are some interactions that I don’t forget, ones that stick out in my brain and I reflect on, but most of them are general interactions that aren’t particularly memorable. For Woodburn, my first run-in with them came during the 4A Girls Soccer state semifinals against North Marion, a game where either team would punch a chance for their first state championship. Before the game, I scouted around the stadium and familiarized myself with the layout of it, as I do with any new environment I enter. I was met first by Woodburn athletic trainer Matt Bowman, who chatted with me about the team, their season thus far, and welcomed me to the school. After that, I ran into several other Woodburn staff, ones that I unfortunately didn’t get the names of or remember the names of, but they all had the same welcoming, grateful greeting to this stranger journalist. Prior to my visit to Woodburn, I had been told and heard many things about the city, but they were mostly negative or bashing in nature. I was told the city was full of poor people, that their schools were terrible and failures, that most of the people there were illegal immigrants, and that the city was full of crime. As someone who hasn’t lived here long, I tended to believe those individuals and had those beliefs rooted in my perspective.
Prior to my first visit, my nervousness and anxiety were higher than normal, thinking about fears of being robbed or something bad happening to my car. I was on high alert, knowing who was around me and watching for red flag behavior, fearing that something was going to happen at some point. After around 30-45 minutes of being there, having numerous interactions with staff and the community, my tense nerves were loosened up and I felt comfortable in the environment. I went home that evening feeling much different about the city, writing the article and reflecting like I had just made a connection with the city. In my subsequent visits, my confidence and comfortability have skyrocketed, just like my relationship with the students, athletes, coaches, and city has. Throughout the growth, I have felt guilty about the fact I had such a distorted, negative perspective about a city that I have come to love and respect.
In my reflections, I have dissected the differences between my upbringing and what I have been told about their community. I was born and raised in a small country town, an area that is over 90% white and is an extremely conservative political region. Woodburn is a polar opposite of my hometown, an immigrant community that leans on their diverse identity and is a firm liberal political city. In our polarized political climate, it seems almost impossible to believe that a firm conservative could ever have a strong, loving, respectful relationship with a city that has polar opposite stances. While we could likely never agree on anything political, Woodburn has taught me much more than they understand, all through their demonstration of true appreciation and openness to an outsider journalist. In turn, their first gesture has turned into an unconditional loving, supportive shield from this journalist. However, in reflection, it shook me to the core of all my beliefs and values. It all defied the logic that had been implanted, even raising questions about whether what I had believed or valued was incorrect.
Just like many Americans in our polarized climate, politics makeup part of who we are as individuals, even though in hindsight its only a part of us and doesn’t really define who we are as people. I eventually realized that this relationship with Woodburn doesn’t make me a liberal or a Democrat, nor does it make my conservative values wrong, but it shows that political beliefs are only part of who we are and that loving each other is the most important thing we can do. Woodburn is a community that is neglected, one that faces not only their own harsh realities, but is subject to racism and prejudice outside of their city. Racism and prejudice have no political affiliation, its a fight that we all are responsible for and are in the middle of. Being a shield of love and support has no political motive, its all about being human and supporting my neighbors in their own pursuits, dreams, and goals. I already used this perspective with my own students, and I have extended that for all the athletes I have the privilege to work for. That doesn’t go for just Woodburn, but for any school that needs it.
So why do I write about this? Because I know that many people in America face an identity crisis from our polarized climate. Your politics don’t define who you are. How you treat others, support others, and love others is what will define who you are, how people view you, and how you will be remembered. I strive to support athletes in their pursuits, support the younger generations in their goals, and work towards a more peaceful future for all of us. I may not agree with students walking out of school, but I support their right to do so. I might not agree with some of the political stances of a younger generation, but I will support them and encourage them to pursue their passions. Its ok to be liberal, Democrat, conservative, or Republican. Its ok to be friends or supportive of others with opposite political stances, and its definitely ok to love others and support them unconditionally. Woodburn might have rocked me to my core, but they also helped me to see through a distorted reality and instead look at others from beyond what I have been told about them. It might seem like a silly lesson to need to learn, but I think many of us have a distorted reality about others that is influenced without reason or cause. If your ever in doubt, try to look beyond the surface and get to know others before creating your perspective. My Woodburn friends, thank you for teaching me that, even if you did it unknowingly.