By John Dodge
CHICAGO (CBS) — The blue-eyed, blonde boy smiles widely as his trumpet teacher prepares to join him in a duet.
The boy is later joined by his sister at a tennis lesson.
The girl chases down a return deep in the court and delivers a beautiful backhand across the court to win the point.
Their instructor joyfully praises her for a job well done.
While this is a typical scene in suburban America, there is something profoundly important going on here.
Two of the most important people in my kids’ lives right now are African-American men.
Their tennis instructor knows exactly how to push the kids when needed, and praise them when it’s warranted. The boy and girl gleefully take it all in.
The coach also happens to be quite an accomplished tennis player in his own right.
The trumpet teacher is quite an accomplished musician, having played in major Broadway in Chicago productions.
Both the music teacher and tennis coach are exuberant, passionate and clearly love what they do.
The significance of all of this is not lost on the father.
The children are growing up in a nearly all-white suburb, being taught skills and sportsmanship by strong male role models who happen to be black.
The father is convinced this will lead his children to understand that most black men do not fit into the often-repeated narrative of absentee fathers and deadbeats who spend time in prison.
They won’t have to be convinced of this truth. It is now part of their experience.
This is also why the experience of Jackie Robinson West is profoundly significant as well.
Some of the national media picked up the hackneyed angle of South Side kids who defied the odds, rising above the violence and poverty to the highest level of the sport.
Not only is that hackneyed but it is also wrong. And now that tired trope is being debunked on a national stage.
CBS 2’s Jim Williams, who has been covering the team at the Little League World Series, explains it this way:
Some have asked why we’re spending so much time and energy covering little leaguers.
My answer is in a story.
My best friend asked a business colleague to join him in a South Side charity project.
“I can’t go there, I’ll get shot,” the colleague said.
The image of the place where I was born and raised doesn’t match the reality.
The Jackie Robinson West players, parents and volunteer coaches represent the overwhelming majority of people who live on Chicago’s South Side.
The JRW mothers AND fathers love and support their children.
They teach the values we all know are invaluable. You’ve seen it in the boys’ play and conduct off the field. The poise, dignity and sportsmanship.
Good boys are learning to be good men, by design.
We cover the tragedies in South Side neighborhoods — with no apologies.
But we have to tell the JRW story, too — and others like it.
Plus, isn’t it just exciting?
Mr. Williams makes sure to mention the “tragedies” for good reason.
The problems of crime, single mothers, poverty and substandard education are complex. Equally important, those societal cancers keeping spreading, passed along to the next generation. Add in the mistrust of authority and one wonders if it can ever be beaten.
But the stories of the trumpet teacher, the tennis coach and young poised baseball players show us that there is hope and humanity in this world.