Jess Leblanc recommended Alyssa to participate here. It turns out that Alyssa coaches Jess' daughter through a basketball training program she organizes. So nice that Jess thought of Alyssa and even nicer that Alyssa accepted the invitation! We met at Alyssa's house on her lunch break and talked on her sofa while her big Labrador Retriever, Sawyer, tried his best to participate in the interview - you may recognize his presence as you listen. I would have loved another hour to dive even further into some of the topics we touched on, but I’m grateful for Alyssa’s perspective and hope that what she says will resonate with you, too.
AL: I am somebody who loves sports. That's what I grew up doing; that's what my family did for fun together. That's what I like to do to pass the time. But I'm also somebody who loves making good connections with smaller groups of people. I wouldn't say I'm super outgoing and want to be in a big group, but I love having a couple really good friends. And I love animals; love the outdoors - one of the reasons why I chose to live in Bend. When I do have my free weekends, we can go camp, explore, hike.
ACT: What concerns you about the condition of the world and humanity? What affects you personally and what inspires you to do something about it?
AL: I think our political climate is pretty crazy right now. Tense would be the first word that comes to mind. And I think growing up in a bigger city - Portland is very liberal - and just kind of never noticed anything and, being of bi-racial descent, always felt very comfortable. And then moving to a smaller city - and one that is definitely not as liberal - has been interesting. I totally feel fine, but I have definitely noticed a little bit more racial... profiling is not the right word, but I've been more aware of, Oh, I'm the only black person around here. You get a little bit more looks. And I don't think the political climate we have today necessarily helps that. So, I'd say that concerns me the most, especially being at the age of thinking about starting a family and raising kids. What has that spurred me to do? I don't know. It's not something I go around talking about, so I think that's a question I could still think on.
ACT: When you experience some form of racial profiling or judgment, how do you make sense of it? What does it make you feel and how do you find the patience to move forward?
AL: I like to believe that we're all good. Faith in humanity has not been destroyed. But I think when I've noticed it it's been older folks. So, I just kind of tell myself it's that generation. I've overheard a conversation sitting at a restaurant. Nothing has ever been directed towards me. It doesn't feel the greatest, but I just try to tell myself hopefully today's generation is better than that.
ACT: What do you people mean to you, individual to individual?
AL: People mean a lot of different things - friends, family - but I think it always comes back to relationships. Starting a small business - yes, it's sports related - but we've met so many different people - kids and their families. Trying with every single kid that's come through to develop some sort of relationship with them. Some kids, it means you're reaching out outside of basketball to see how they're doing. Some kids, we only see them during basketball. And developing relationships with their families and getting to know them on personal levels. And then just with the random person you see day-to-day, trying to be the one that smiles and it's not just a blank face as you're walking by, but giving them some sort of hello - a quick how are you?
ACT: Relationships are another way of talking about community and you could say that makes up the theme of this project. My experiences with people make or break my moment, my day, my week, my month. And it seems like relationships are what most people are most interested in. Maybe that's masked by other desires - consumerism or hoarding or greed or activities - but it does seem like most people are concerned primarily with their relationships. As I look out in the world, though, I see a lot of what is broken - animosity, hate, racism, phobias of all kinds. Why are we having such a hard time with connection and patience and empathy and compassion?
AL: I think we have such a hard time because [of] a couple things. I think people don't want to put in the effort. It takes time to develop a relationship, establish a community with somebody or a group of people. I think people find excuses. I'd rather be doing this. I already feel comfortable with this person or this group of people. Why go meet somebody new? Because it is uncomfortable to put yourself out there in the beginning.
I think it's only gonna get harder for the younger generation now... with phones. I have a sister who's eight years younger than me and her growing up has been completely different than my childhood of not having a phone until high school, not having social media until later on in high school. And I think being around a ton of kids now with coaching has been very eye-opening to kids are glued to their phones these days and having a conversation is very hard for them. Not all of them, but trying to look into somebody's eyes and hold a conversation is uncomfortable for a lot of them. Telling somebody to pick up the phone and call somebody is an uncomfortable thing for a lot of them. So, I think that's only gonna get harder for younger generations.
For us, yeah, I think it's uncomfortable and it takes time and those things not everybody wants to do. You're gonna step on toes when you start talking about things that are uncomfortable, whether it's racism or politics or anything, really, in today's society. Seems to be very black and white with how people think or what they feel. Everybody kind of thinks their opinion is right and those are hard conversations to have - we might have differing opinions, but we can still have a conversation about it.
ACT: It takes effort to find commonality, so the default is to not. And it's so much easier to highlight the differences. Why do we have such a lousy default?
AL: I don't know. It seems like there's become these taboo conversations that you're not supposed to have. I heard it all growing up - you don't talk about religion; you don't talk about politics. Those are things that seem to have these taboos associated with them. So nobody talks about it. Nobody talks about it and then we kind of end up where we are today where people are forcing some hard conversations. But it is a little too late in some aspects.
ACT: Hoping for a better future isn't quite the answer because it really just requires us to work for it. So, will we accept responsibility and move towards positive change?
AL: At some point, hopefully. Are we talking accept responsibility for everything? Anything and everything? I don't know. If you just look at history, it's taken a long time to accept responsibility for some things. I mean, you look at slavery - that took a long time to realize, Oh, this is bad. Has everybody accepted responsibility? No. Are we getting there? Maybe. Discrimination based on who you love - I think we're getting there quicker. I still think it's a long ways out. I don't think it's happening quickly. But I think more and more people are standing up and fighting for those than has happened in the past. But yeah, I don't think it's a Poof! and it's gonna happen overnight.
ACT: Do you have a sense of purpose?
AL: I think my purpose is with basketball with our organization we have because we're reaching so many young athletes. We always say basketball is so much bigger than the sport. It's creating relationships; it's having to work in a team, becoming a leader, learning to take directions. So, I've found purpose in learning to coach after playing for so many years and seeing this transformation in kids. Whether it's Oh, I learned how to make a left-handed layup and seeing the joy on their faces of completing that in a game or seeing someone learn leadership skills that they've now gone back to school and are the head of their group project. Just trying to affect the lives of little kids and high school kids that are trying to find their way - whether it's playing basketball in college or not. But because I've walked that path, that can be of some guidance to them. So, I'm loving that. That's something I look forward to.
ACT: You can see it on your face. That's cool. What did playing basketball mean to you?
AL: It's something that has just always been there. Started playing in kindergarten and got to play through college - it paid for college. So I'm very thankful for that. I think my life experience could have been very different without it. It gave me some of my best friends. It's meant a lot.
ACT: Is raising awareness the answer to building compassion or equity or empathy or building a sense of community? Or is it more than that?
AL: I think if you pay attention to the world at all, you're aware. So, raising awareness almost seems like not the right word choice. Maybe you call it that for younger people, but I think if you're an adult and you pay attention to current events, you're pretty aware. The only thing with raising awareness maybe is seeing both sides of the story because there's always two sides. Maybe you're aware of one and not the other.