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Off the Sidelines

atmathew January 31, 2019
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For me, when I’ve heard the phrase “off the sidelines and into the game,” it brings simultaneous feelings of extreme excitement and fear. I remember my junior year of high school on the track team being the alternate for the record-holding, state bound, and practically legendary 4×400 team. I had dreamed of the moment I would be called off the sidelines many times, and I had rehearsed my debut it seemed a million times in my head, yet when it actually happened instead of boldly accepting the challenge, I froze. When my coach yelled for me I stood there frozen like a deer. He sensed I was nervous so he yelled, “You got this! You got 10 minutes to warm up.” It wasn’t until a friend came over to me and helped snap me out of it that I was able to work up the courage to actually run. Fast forward almost 5 years and it’s my senior year in college. I went to the University of Virginia and if you put two and two together, you might realize that I was in school when the tragic events in Charlottesville took place in August of 2017. I was not present on that weekend, but every day I was at school till the moment I graduated, the pain of being in Charlottesville was indescribable. One of my brave professors, who is also a master of the pen and excels in spoken word, was asked to perform on behalf of the University at a concert at which the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed that weekend, would be in attendance. About a month before the performance, my professor pulled me out of class and told me he couldn’t make it to the concert and he wanted me to perform for him instead. I immediately froze both mentally and physically again. He said he wanted me to write original lyrics focusing on the healing of Charlottesville, and that I would be performing my piece with an orchestra while I was center stage rapping. I immediately thought, “How am I, a young twenty-one-year-old man, who isn’t black or white, supposed to deliver a piece to Heather Heyer’s mom regarding the healing of this entire city?”

I write this, not to simply just tell you about how often in my life I seem to be a deer in headlights, but I write to you because I know the cost that comes with coming off the sidelines. Most people dream about moments and opportunities to shine, be recognized, or just help in a big way. However, in reality, those opportunities are far more challenging than we expect. We all have a story to tell, we all have gifts, but using them to help others sometimes means we put ourselves and others at risk. Once our story is told, it’s out there. That’s terrifying, especially when a person or a group of people is counting on you. When we step off of the sidelines and into center field, we are not only being watched, but we are also sometimes representing our brothers and sisters that are stuck on the sidelines. Here at Share More Stories, we want to recognize those who have been brave enough to use their story to bring heavy topics off the sidelines and into the spotlight in our community. We have also made it our commitment to walk with you in hard times and use our own stories as ways to lift up, support others, and continue the work you all have been doing. In this case, it means the introduction of our new series: Off the Sidelines.

Off the Sidelines will be an opportunity for us to use this platform as a tool to help bring topics off the sidelines. We hope to highlight different topics by using the stories that are already present and seek out new voices to share insight to bring light and depth to these topics. We thank you for using your voice to tell your story to this community and we ask you to consider taking part in this journey with us. While we will be doing the work of bringing topics, stories, and people off the sidelines, we will also be learning why it’s important and how we can incorporate this practice into our own lives. Walking off the sidelines is hard, but the more we can approach it as a community the easier it will be, and hopefully, we can empower those who feel stuck on the sidelines and feel their voice has no place.

For those wondering how my stories end, I regret to inform you they are nowhere near perfect endings. My first race on the A team was my worst time ever and put us in second to last place, however by the end of the season at the state finals, I ran my best time and helped my team place 3rd. The best moment, however, was celebrating with the friend who helped me overcome my fear in the first place and hearing them say, “I always knew you could do it.” At the concert, I stumbled through my lines as I had never performed in front of a live audience before, and I was shaking so bad that I had trouble enunciating my words. But, after I stepped off the stage, I was pulled aside by Heather Heyer’s mom, and with tears in her eyes she pulled me in for a warm embrace and told me that my story and my words brought hope into her life. As many of you are probably not surprised at this point, I froze, but this time I couldn’t hold back the biggest smile I had ever experienced. Before letting me go, she whispered in my ear, “Never stop telling your story; no song, no policy, or leader will fix these problems or this city, your story and others like you will bring hope and love which will eventually heal this world.” I will never forget those words; for as long as I live, I will remember her and those words. Getting off the sidelines can be scary and extremely difficult, but when we get up and try something or speak up, it matters. Our voices matter. So let’s speak up. Let’s get off the sidelines together.

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