The clock skipped ahead an hour and the sun rose with a purpose last Sunday. After months of freezing temperatures and early sunsets there was finally a high forecasted above 32 degrees. It was 48. Warm enough to lift my spirits but not warm enough to melt the layers of ice and snow off Macombs Field.
In the shadow of Yankee Stadium players and coaches of South Bronx United gathered together to shovel over 7,000 square yards of wintery mix off their home turf in an attempt to assist the sun in clearing the field for next weekend’s soccer games. I admired their dedication and thought, what is worth shoveling 7,000 square yards of snow for?
U16-U19 South Bronx United players shoveling Macombs Field the week before their first outdoor soccer game is scheduled to be played. Photo by Amanda Berg
South Bronx United is a non-profit soccer club that uses soccer as a tool for social change. Their programming is equally focused on education, character development, and soccer skills. I have spent most of my time as a Lewis Hine Fellow with SBU at their after school tutoring program. Helping someone with homework is no small task. I know from experience that a simple take-home worksheet can cause real anxiety. I remember what it felt like to be in middle school and it seems just as difficult and formative now as it did then.
SBU student athlete working on his homework during tutoring. Photo by Amanda Berg
Last week I sat down to help a 6th grader named Brayon do an English language assignment. The task was to describe a journey through pictures. My eyes lit up when I read this. Brayon was on the Internet googling images of his hometown in Mexico. Everything he searched was in Spanish. I realized he understood part of the assignment but was new to English and was confused by the word “journey.” We went back and forth brainstorming what he wanted to describe. As we talked he searched for other images. I could tell his ideas were forming but I wasn’t sure what exactly he was going to draw.
First he drew an intricate picture of a church. He wrote underneath, “the first journey I went on is when I went to church to talk to God that nothing happen to us.” Next he drew a plane shooting upward into the sky. He then depicted trees with snakes hanging from them and a large wall in the distance that he called the frontera. The last image was of cars driving away. One by one he worked out his captions and wrote them under the pictures. Brayon depicted his journey immigrating to the United States.
Brayon’s journey. Photo by Amanda Berg
The student athletes at SBU are incredibly diverse. Their life experience is unparalleled. They have powerful personal stories and unique perspectives on the world. The challenge they face is in believing their stories are important. With a slight shift in self-perception, a personal narrative can transform. Expectations rise. Doors open. I think this sort of shift is crucial to an individual’s success, happiness and shared cultural understanding, especially a young person who is faced with the task of imagining their future. This is central to why I love visual stories but also why I love sports.
Sports give you a compressed narrative, a clear beginning middle, and end. There is obvious tension, opposing sides and an undeniable outcome. Life is not always so well defined but most of the stories that get us through are. As a player you can be anyone you want for the duration of the game. You can risk failure and always try again. You can imagine the future, the win, the lose, the playoffs, your college teams uniforms, your loved one watching you… You are given a literal field of possibilities to explore. I think sports and photography are ideal metaphors for what it means to be alive. Both give us the tools to explain our human experience.
The SBU Newspaper Club skyping with Mike McCray, digital content coordinator at the Dallas Morning News. Photo by Amanda Berg
As part of my role at South Bronx United I am leading a Newspaper Club. We meet every Wednesday during tutoring. Our goal is to explore how stories create change and ask our selves what stories matter most. The club is practicing journalistic photography and writing techniques that we will use to creatively document the community. By the end of May we will take what we have reported, design pages, send out to print, and distribute our newspaper. By then the Bronx will be in bloom and the fields will be open for play.