By Antonio John Soave January 17, 2024 I am certainly “aging myself” when I say that I attended a New York Cosmos youth soccer camp
Social Justice: Anti-Racism, Anti-Discrimination & Anti-Bullying
Statement on Diversity
I suppose that it is somewhat ironic that sports or “sport” has been used as a principal venue to demonstrate racial and ethnic division and separation. I have been involved in the sport of soccer since 1970; that’s quite a while. During that time, I have had the opportunity to coach and play around the globe with people from all different walks of life. We are various shades of brown, black, yellow and white, and we are from different ethnic makeups and religions as well. We have been teammates over the years, and we have been united by our “love for the game.” Seldom did we look at each other in terms of our differences; rather we intuitively, normally, and naturally sought out our common ground. On the field and off, we have become brothers in cause, brothers in purpose, and brothers in battle (on the field, that is). My personal experience in sports—having coached and played hockey and soccer for over 47 years now—is that we have a natural bridge that we can use to encourage and support one another, as well as to spread kindness, goodness, and compassion.
So today it is sad that we have chosen to use something such as sports to segregate, separate and divide our nation and the world, when the actual essence of sport is the opposite: It is about unity and teamwork. Most of us who have been engaged in sports have lived within various locker room environments and have experienced the benefit and the camaraderie of sports, rather than the divisive elements that others would like to support and maintain.
In my case, I am actually of a “brownish—olive skin” nature and color, and I get much darker in the summer months (as the above photos would indicate). I don’t consider myself by color, but rather by my heart and soul. I do the same with others, or I certainly seek to do the same with others—by that, I mean that I attempt to show my compassion based on the innate components of the soul, not based on esthetics. Strangely enough, as an olive-skinned brown man in his mid 50s, I have often been mistaken for other ethnicities, other skin colors, other religions, and other shades. Even though other people may see my skin shade as a reason to exclude me or characterize me (or even place me in a box), I have seen my color as a reflection of God’s artistry and beauty—a reflection of His infinite goodness. He has made all of us—regardless of our skin color and ethnic identity—in His very own image and likeness. And that, in and of itself, makes us sons and daughters of the Creator of the Universe, while being sons and daughters of the King. He is truly the definition of love, kindness, compassion and mercy.
By the same token, this article is not intended as some sort of a naïve, granola-eating “kumbaya” love fest. Racism does exist in America, as it does in many other countries around the world. It even exists in this form: “Shades of color,” and not just “Shades of Grey.” Just consider the genocide in Rwanda and the divide between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis. While it is a complex matter—God knows—it is also a failure in terms of our desire and ability to treat each and every human being with the innate dignity, honor, and decency that God intended. At the same time, what does this “kumbaya love fest” mean anyway? Let’s take a look at one definition just to be sure:
The term kumbaya originates in an African-American spiritual song from the American South. The earliest record in the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center (AFC) comes from lyrics collected in North Carolina in 1926 for a song called “Oh Lord, Won’t You Come By Here.” The spiritual pleads for divine intervention—for God to come by here and help a people in great need, referencing an area historically connected to the enslavement and oppression of African Americans. The word kumbaya is taken from the song’s refrain.
Given this most magnificent explanation of the term “kumbaya,” perhaps we do want to engage in a bit of “kumbaya.” After all (and as the definition states), it a “spiritual plead” for divine intervention, and for God to help a people in great need. I believe that is what we are today: A “people” in great need; in great need of healing, compassion, honor, integrity, decency, decorum, and understanding.
As a Christian, the Bible tells me clearly in Matthew 7:
7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
Indeed, we can all learn something from this. It is not just about the evil of judging, but it also about recognizing the planks in our eyes.
Back in 2011 we officially created our international non-profit organization, the Global Foundation for Peace through Soccer. This entity exists so as to promote peace through sports, precisely because “sports” is a veritable, viable, and efficacious tool for spreading peace, particularly among young people. Sure, we give out soccer uniforms and soccer balls, and we even distribute food items when possible. We conduct free soccer missions and free soccer camps for underprivileged children around the world. But most of all, we spread love and peace. That’s our real mission.
From an historical point of view, though, we actually started down this path in 1999. That is when we became partners with Disney and created the World Youth Soccer Academy at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. It’s a mouthful, but that was the full name. Every summer for four years we hosted soccer camps from kids from all over the globe and from every walk of life imaginable. Our Co-Head Coach at the time, Chris Ramsey, was a wonderful and caring example of dignity and soccer knowledge. Chris has now gone on to “soccer greatness” with Queens Park Rangers (or “QPR”) in England. Race and color were never an issue with Chris or with any of our soccer campers. In fact, they were delighted to see our coaching staff that was represented by this sort of diversity.
I am convinced that God intended for us to love one another, support one another, help one another, and care for one another—without exception and without regard for skin tone or
or skin color. He did not call on us to be divisive or to spew hatred. The Bible, the Koran and the Torah are all replete with examples of this form of kindness and compassion. Today, I believe that God is asking all of His children—irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity—to participate in His plan to uphold and sustain the dignity of the entire human family. We can all make a difference if we try. We can all make an impact if we pray as well.
God bless you.
P.S. Today, we’re still trying to keep our mission alive. If you’d like to follow our Global Foundation and the various mission activities we have, please keep up with us and “Like us” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GFPeaceThroughSoccer/
Also, you can support our “Peace through Soccer” initiatives via our non-profit at: https://www.gofundme.com/manage/jxbnz-a-cause-i-care-about-needs-help/donations
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