I volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Kansas City and have a “Little Brother” named Javion. Javion is 12 years old and is a great kid even though he’s had a rough life so far. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and his family over the last couple of years. He lives with his Grandma and brother in Olathe.
Javion has started playing in an Ultimate Frisbee league and last Wednesday I went to watch him play. He had been playing on his little brother’s team, but he was dominating and is bigger than the other kids on that team, so the guy that runs the league bumped him up to an older age group. His Grandma, Debra, stayed to watch Javion’s brother Jamaal’s game and I went over to another field to watch Javion play.
Debra introduced me to the guy that runs the league and we chatted for a bit and he seems like a really good guy. He’s very involved with all of the games and wanders back and forth between all the fields to keep an eye on things. He’s very efficient. After he introduced Javion to his new team, he headed back to the other field. As Javion’s game got started, it was quite apparent that the kids on his team had played together for a while. And they’re pretty good. The best way to describe Ultimate Frisbee is that it’s like football with a frisbee, but there is no contact and you can’t run with the frisbee. Javion caught a few “passes” at the beginning of the game but was increasingly ignored by the kids that have obviously played together for a while. They obviously run some plays and Javion was kind of unfamiliar with what they were doing. I saw him get more and more frustrated that they weren’t throwing the frisbee to him. He could have run around a little bit more to get open, but he thought he WAS open and they were intentionally not throwing to him. But in this game you have to keep running down the field, you can’t just stand around.
At one point in the second half, Javion stormed off the field in tears and said “I’m going home!” He ran over to his Grandma and I followed closely behind him. He told her that he was upset that his teammates weren’t involving him. Debra called over the guy who runs the league and explained to him what happened. He asked me for verification that was what was happening and I did verify it, but also explained that it was obvious that the kids on the team were comfortable and more familiar playing with each other and that’s mostly what was going on. He was definitely concerned about this and immediately told Javion to follow him back up to the other field and he stopped the game and talked to the coach and the team.
While he was doing that, I explained to Debra what was going on and that the kids weren’t purposely trying to ignore Javion, but that I could understand why he felt that they were. It was also at this point that I realized that Javion and Jamaal are the only two African-American kids in the league and that this could be misconstrued as something that it was not. Debra understood this. We walked up to the other field together as Javion’s game had started back up again. The kids on his team immediately started throwing the frisbee to him a lot more. I don’t think they consciously realized they were ignoring him and that he was getting frustrated. Javion is a quiet kid and he’s not one to make a fuss about that in front of people.
Debra and I talked and she mentioned to me that it was a good thing that we understood what was going on and she said that someone else might play the race card in a situation like that when that was not the case. She said when they got home that she would talk to Javion to make sure he knows that what happened was not because of his color and she added “not everything is about color.” Sometimes it may be, but in this case, it definitely wasn’t. I was glad she recognized this and did not get upset about it AND that she wanted to make sure that Javion understood it as well.
I thought it was a good learning experience so I thought I would share the story. Instead of quitting, Javion is looking forward to playing next week. Crisis averted.