Monday, October 12, 2009

A Telling Silence

Like many of the students in my class, I am too young to remember watching the Berlin Wall fall; too young to have been aware of the launch of Desert Storm; and just about too young to recall Nelson Mandela's release from a South African prison and ensuing ascendency to that country's Presidency. While time explains why we did not recognize these momentous world events as they were happening, there is no excuse for our continued ignorance when it comes to understanding apartheid and how it has shaped the world we live in today.

Dr. Lapchick movingly spoke about his involvement in the worldwide sport ban against South Africa in response to the country's apartheid policies. If you have never read or heard about Dr. Lapchick's incredible resiliency and courage to stand up for justice, I suggest you start here in an article written by the late, great Ralph Wiley that captures all that Dr. Lapchick stood and still stands for in the fight for racial equality in sport and society. While we in the class have heard and been inspired by Dr. Lapchick's personal biography before, we were challenged today when Dr. Lapchick began his lecture with a simple question to the class. He asked, "tell me about apartheid."

The silence in the room was telling. While most of us had a very broad understanding that apartheid was a form of legalized segregation in South Africa for most of the 20th Century, none of us felt confident enough to expound upon Dr. Lapchick's simple question. Here we are, graduate level students in a program that preaches an understanding of the important diversity issues of our time, and none of us could talk about apartheid.

While others in the class may have differing opinions, I felt today's lecture was perhaps one of the most important classes I have had in my four semesters in the DeVos program. I consider myself pretty knowledgable on wordly affairs and current events, but for it to have taken this long to really sit down and open my mind up to understand what apartheid was and its larger cultural significance dumbfounds me.

Moving on from our rough start to class, we watched a brilliant documentary out of the United Kingdom entitled More Than Just A Game, based on this book of the same name by Chuck Korr and Marvin Close. Do yourself a favor today - read "More Than Just A Game", research some online about Nelson Mandela, or plan to go see this winter's Invictus, a new Clint Eastwood film about Mandela and his role in South Africa's hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Don't sit back and let the world pass you by, become more informed and aware of how history has shaped who and what we are today. This lesson was reinforced to me today more than ever. I always speak about how privileged I am to be a part of this program, but today reminded me just how fortunate I am to be in the company of a leader like Dr. Lapchick, who not only understands the history of sport, but has lived and made history himself.

It is one thing to talk of the importance of racial equality and using sport as a platform for social change; it is quite another to go out and do something about it. In order for our generation to go out and carry on the legacy of Dr. Lapchick, we must first recognize and truly value the need to understand history. When Dr. Lapchick speaks to crowds in their 40s or 50s, the crowd is almost always taken aback by the magnitude of Dr. Lapchick's mention that he was personally invited to Nelson Mandela's inauguration. When he makes the same statement to college crowds, Dr. Lapchick has said that these crowds generally fail to fully comprehend the enormity of that honor.

While we all have always admired and respected Dr. Lapchick and all that he has accomplished, after today, my classmates and I are no longer blind to Nelson Mandela's place in history and how sport helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. After today's class, we can begin to appreciate what that inauguration day in 1994 must have meant to Lapchick, Mandela, the people of South Africa, and the rest of the people around the world watching history unfold. Most important of all, today reminded us that we are no longer too young to see the world.

- Charlie


Devan said...

Charlie - this is an excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it.

Matt V said...

Awesome post, and great link to the other article. I knew of Dr. Lapchick's work with South Africa and Nelson Mandela, but no idea of the abuse from others it took to get there.