Editor’s introduction: The author of today’s blog, a 2020 graduate of Saint Mary’s College who majored in kinesiology, recounts a powerful experience of trying to protect young women, whom he was helping to coach, from sexual victimization and support the rest of the team in their just concerns. His is a story of Christian faith and witness, nurtured in his family and cultivated in his Lasallian schooling. In these days when we are called to stand with the victims of injustice, the author’s Gospel witness to the struggle for justice can inspire us all. The essay offered today was first presented as a reflection on leadership, for which he received a departmental scholarship.
Leadership for Change
“Stand for change, stand for justice, and stand for those that believe that they do not have a voice.”
Albert Ahedo, SMC ‘20
Over the course of my seven-year coaching career for the sport of women’s volleyball, with five of those years as coach at the college level and two at Saint Mary’s College, leading came relatively easy for me, since I, myself, am a constant student of the game and am always trying to find better ways to enhance my volleyball IQ for my athletes. I strive, also, to empower young people and to help them stand up for their beliefs and show that they have voices.
Being a leader for volleyball is simple compared to showing athletes how to be leaders for social justice. I was challenged with this greater task when I was a younger, coaching at a high school. The Athletic Director began acting inappropriately with the young women, who attended that high school. Every day in practice I would notice him being very affectionate with some students, disappearing together at times behind closed doors, and then treating those students with greater privilege. Some of the girls that were on my team noticed it and showed their concern for those students as well. This tasked me with the idea that I needed to empower the young women on my team. I was challenged to show how powerful my voice could be and even more important, just how powerful their voices are and could be. So, the choice was easy to report the incidents to the administration, because I needed to show these girls that if they saw anything like this, they should neither accept nor tolerate it. Taking advantage of someone vulnerable or weak should be eliminated. When I reported the behavior, I was brushed off. The team knew this happened. However, I knew that if I wanted to be a just leader working for change, I needed to continue to fight for those students. More importantly I needed to show the athletes on my team that their judgment mattered and their voices were powerful.
The choice was easy, but the journey hard. I continued to report incidents and told anyone that would listen. Many conversations and much ridicule followed since no one in authority believed me or the girls. However, I needed to continue to be a voice no matter what happened to me and my family, because I knew in my heart that it was right to stand for justice and it needed to be done. I was mocked as I was told that I was making it up. Sadly, I was not. The athletic director eventually ran away with one of the students.
After all this I knew that I had stood for the right thing, even though I stood alone with the athletes on my team. I learned that even though people may not believe you, if you know in your heart it is right then you need to stand and fight. I hope that the ridicule that I endured showed the girls that were on my team that it was worth it. I hope that this showed the young women how to be leaders for change on the side of social justice, even when ridiculed and taunted. Standing up for justice for people that believe that they don’t have a voice made me the best leader that I could be.
The biggest reason that I decided to stand was a Lasallian core principle, which is faith in the presence of God. Being a Lasallian Catholic, who grew up with the five core principles all through high school and college, I began fully to understand why the other four are important because of this one. I saw God in those athletes and students of that high school, and I needed to stand for those children of God. Even if you are not Catholic or don’t believe in God, people can still use this Lasallian core principle, by changing “God” to “the Good.” Seeing the Good in people can be the source of why you stand with them. Stand for change, stand for justice, and stand for those that believe that they do not have a voice. This is why I coach, to empower our young athletes, especially those that feel powerless, and to give them a voice so they too can be leaders of social justice and bring change
photo credits: Pixabay, U. S. Department of Defense, Christian Brothers University, and Albert Ahedo