Just Pass the Damn Ball

November 7, 2013

One basketball game during my senior year of high school, I was dribbling the ball down the court, leading my team on a fast break.  I looked right, looked left, looked right again, and then finally passed.  Having taken way too much time to review each option in front of me, I threw the ball out of bounds, completely blowing our chance. During the ensuing time-out, my coach was not pleased.  “Warren!  Stop thinking so much and just pass the damn ball!”

I thought about this advice yesterday as our long Board of Directors meeting concluded.  As we discussed Generation Citizen’s long-term strategy, and each participant offered spirited feedback and debate, my mind (and those of my team) whirled.  There are so many different scaling options we have at our disposal as we begin to graduate from a start-up to a more fully-fledged non-profit.  In our early years, we have experimented a lot- altering our curriculum, exploring fee-for service, building a tech component, starting partnerships without using college students.  I began to weigh the options out-loud.

And then my Board, very similarly to my high school coach, stopped me.  They wanted me to make up my mind, provide focus, and determine the direction that GC should go in.  They gave me three months to do so, but still- they wanted decisions.  They wanted me to pass the ball.

Last night, as I got home, my mind was still whirling from an inspiring and thought-provoking day.  I was simultaneously excited for GC’s next steps, grateful for a Board of Directors that had spent 14 hours over the course of two days marinating on these topics, frustrated in myself that we still don’t have the level of diversity on our team or Board that we should have, resolute in the need to ensure that my team is elevated in their own roles and these conversations.  I then received an email from my good friend, Themba, a Zimbabwean, talking about his recent trip back to his hometown, and how dispirited those citizens are with their government.  It made me feel both appreciative for my situation, but dispirited that I could not do more.

So, a lot of thoughts.

But here’s the thing.  I woke up this morning, and despite all this thinking, there is work to be done.  Putting one foot in front of the other.  And I think that it is possible to, well, think too much.

At college, it became a running joke that the most popular word on campus was “problematic.”  Everyone was able to problematize everything.  It was problematic that we lived in nice houses on College Hill while the rest of Providence literally lived below us.  It was problematic for white people to try to do anything in Africa given the continuing specter of colonization.  It was problematic that our minority support center was called the “Third World Center.”  It got to the point where everything was so problematic that it was impossible to actually do anything.  We could deconstruct everything.  We could construct very little.

I see this in my work today.  We are working in low-income schools with majority of students of color, and sending in a lot of white college kids.  Our staff and Board are majority white.  It is a little, well, problematic.  And I could think about this all day.

But the reality is that we are doing some good work.  And rather than bemoan where we are today, the answer is to figure out concrete next steps that will allow us to actually combat many of the societal problems. Let’s be open about our diversity issues.  Let’s make sure our Democracy Coach Corps is more diverse, as well as our staff and Board.  Let’s talk and think.  But more importantly, let’s do. Because if all we do is think, without acting, that ball is going out of bounds.

It’s interesting to apply this to a broader context.  Regardless of your opinion of his job, President Obama is an incredibly nuanced leader.  It is clear that he weighs both the positives and negatives of any action, that he problematizes, even in the midst of his own speeches (the Trayvon Martin speech was a tremendous example of this nuance).  But at the end of the day, if his health-care website does not work, then the nuanced thought is all for naught.  Execution matters.  So much.

And so, I leave the Board meeting with so many thoughts in my head, some of which will take a long time to untangle.  But importantly, we all leave with a determination that we need to act.  We need to recognize some of the problems inherent with our work.  But we need to get it done.  We need to pass the damn ball before it’s too late.

– Scott Warren, Executive Director

Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.

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