The passing of Sidney Poitier is being covered, rightfully, in such detail and so well elsewhere that I would only be dragging the remembrances down with my own respect. Here is the NY Times obituary, a good place to start.
I heard a story this weekend too about dignity that I wanted to share. If you haven’t read one of my 800 rants, I think dignity is the cornerstone of Ivy as a style, as a lifestyle. When asked about how to start dressing Ivy, I have said this:
Start with the application of dignity everywhere. Use dignity in the way you treat yourself, your own presentation. Choose to assert yourself without dominance. Choose to inhale that all men are created equal. Choose to respect each for their own talents. Work hard every day at whatever you are doing, and treat other’s work the same way you do your own. One cannot value thought without dignity, one cannot be a good husband/wife/partner without dignity, one certainly cannot be a good parent without dignity. Whenever in doubt about conflict, dignity is the answer. Think and behave in this manner, and then put on whatever reflects that. You will be dressing Ivy.
This is Coach Kris Hogan.
Hogan is no longer the football coach at Grapevine Faith High School in Texas. He resigned, but that was after winning the state championship. And that was after seven previous appearances. Grapevine is a private school in Texas, yes religious but that is not the point. What Hogan is most known for is the way he brought dignity to a game with Gainesville State School, which is anything but religious.
Here is Grapevine:
And here is Gainesville:
Wikipedia describes Gainesville as “a juvenile correctional facility of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in unincorporated Cooke County, Texas.” Gainesville has a football program, as does Grapevine, and that the only place on the Venn diagram where there is intersection.
In December of 2008, Grapevine was set to host Gainesville for a football game. The outcome was predetermined. Cheerleaders, nutrition, elite facilities, a professional coaching staff of educators, these are undeniable advantages, and one cannot roll into that on a yellow prison bus with guards and cinderblock walls back home and expect to win anything. Not only the game of football but the game of life had been played out before the coin toss.
HOGAN IS IVY though, even with the pleats.
Prior to the game, Hogan sent out an email, asking half the parents and crowd to sit on the Gainesville side, and to cheer for them. He sent out a list of the players names, so that the fans and parents would know who they were cheering for, and Hogan asked that they cheer by name. He divided the cheerleaders, too. And sent half over to the Gainesville sideline. When Gainesville got there, the shock was Richter Scale.
From Hogan’s now famous email:
“Here’s the message I want you to send: You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth.”
I don’t know what it felt like to roll in on cracked green vinyl bus seats with an old metal thermos as your water bottle and see this, to see people finally on your side, for something. But we can ask Alex, courtesy of ESPN:
“I thought maybe they were confused,” said Alex, a Gainesville lineman (only first names are released by the prison). “They started yelling ‘DEE-fense!’ when their team had the ball. I said, ‘What? Why they cheerin’ for us?'”
It was a strange experience for boys who most people cross the street to avoid. “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games,” says Gerald, a lineman who wound up doing more than three years. “You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us! By our names!”
The game didn’t end the way it would have in the movie, but Gainesville did score two touchdowns. Afterwards, again thanks to ESPN:
After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that’s when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah (Gainesville team captain) said this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”
Life doesn’t work in such a way that this one game, this one feeling of support and dignity changed boys’ lives forever. I don’t have specifics but I know what it takes to turn things around, and it is done by chipping away at mythology and by slow, small bites. Overnight conversions never last. Which is why dignity must be applied and practiced consistently.
I do know this, though. Poitier and Hogan dressed with dignity, with respect for themselves and with a message to the problems they were/are solving. When one thinks about why Hogan wears a tie to games, or why Poitier wore Ivy in his personal life, one gets here: it isn’t enough to know dignity, you have to show dignity. That’s how dignity gets echoes instead of being played off stage.