A few years ago, I took part in the “Chess for Peace” initiative with former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and former World Champion Anatoly Karpov. I prefer to use peaceful methodology to resolve conflicts instead of war. Here is a story about Michael Evans trying to use basketball as a means of reconciling conflicts.
Leadership by Example
It’s one thing to analyze success stories after the fact. It’s quite another to delve into an unfolding situation where the outcome is uncertain, and the protagonist is neither rich nor famous and faces real risks with limited resources.
In this first of two-parts, I’ll share the story of Michael Evans, a young man who’s working on bridging a religious and cultural divide. As you read it, consider how he might take his cause forward, and how he can balance his desire to build a legacy with the realities of pursuing a career. The answers to these questions are at the heart of achieving professional success, personal satisfaction, and long-term financial gain.
A Divide Worth Bridging
Evans is a 25-year-old former basketball star who played for elite Hamilton College in upstate New York. After graduating from Hamilton, Michael moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to work for a charity organization that uses basketball as a means of reconciling conflicts.
He worked with elementary schoolchildren, using the fundamentals of basketball to get the kids to communicate and hopefully understand one another. But when he came home after a year’s time with the organization, Michael was dissatisfied with the results he’d seen. The children he and his coworkers had coached showed no signs of friendship. In fact, they openly expressed antipathy toward each other.
Venturing into the neighborhoods in which they lived, Michael found the kids’ surroundings to be hate-filled. How, he wondered, could he help create some sort of permanent friendship between youth in Belfast, a city that is one of the most segregated in the entire world?
Meeting the Opposition
Michael developed a risky plan and returned to Belfast on his own, and on a student’s budget. His idea was to attract an older group of kids and work with them differently — still using basketball, but taking small steps to build a foundation on which to make progress.
He targeted two high schools in the same geographic area, but that were culturally distinct: One was Catholic, the other Protestant. His hope was to create a basketball team from a selection of boys from each school, which were on opposite sides of a 50-foot-wide, mile-long dividing wall that was erected to prevent exactly what Michael was aiming for — bringing the two communities together.
As Michael spent time in each school, both teaching basketball and getting to know the boys, he concentrated on earning their trust as a coach and as a friend. He went to dinner at their homes. He met with them on the weekends. He dedicated his personal time to learning exactly what the kids liked and disliked, and just how hateful they were toward the other side of the wall in Belfast.
Through hard work, patience, and persistence, he found five boys from each school. When he decided it was time, he told them they would be a part of a travel team. The catch? They’d have to play with the boys from the “opposing” religion.
Here is the full story.
Special thanks to Shruti for sending this in.