Submitted by Blake Surina.
I look like an old white guy. Or worse. As one friend described me to a human resources representative seeking a reference, “I confirmed for her that you were a ginormous man with a patched eye and grizzled hooked arm. A gravel-toned, furrow-browed, spinner of marvelous adventures. He’s been known to gash a listener or two, as the hook flails about describing his 4th world deeds and adventures.” Most people that know me would say, “Yeah… that sounds about right.”
But neither my appearance (nor my friend’s description) describe me very well as I’ve been homeless, abandoned, lived in an orphanage (St. Anne’s), arrested, jailed, long shored, and worked in a head shop. In short, I did not have a lot of opportunities growing up. But, I did manage to work my way through high school and college. After college graduation I was offered a rare opportunity to work and train for the 1984 Olympics Games at the Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs. My boss was Kenneth S. Clarke, the father of Sports Medicine in the United States. About me, Mr. Clark wrote: “He has the drive to “milk” everything he can from whatever he has a chance to do.” I am forever grateful for the opportunity to find my potential as an elite athlete and as an exercise science professional.
Later, as the Executive Director for the Exercise Science Center, I have reviewed articles for the American Journal of Cardiology, patented significant scientific advancements in exercise physiology, been elected to public office, became a published author and historian, worked as a respiratory therapist during the COVID pandemic, and trained dozens of regional and national athletic champions and record holders. I have made connections with hundreds if not thousands of renowned professionals throughout the world.
Now, when I finally I have built a resume that is substantial, and have had the time and desire to engage in public service, I find that I am marginalized by some folks as an “Old White Guy” who does not need to be heard from. This stings. I know that many persons of color and other folk have felt the same way or worse.
So, what happened is that I was recently rejected to fill a vacated seat on a city council because I was not “diverse” enough. My immediate reaction was anger in that my 35+ years of community service meant so little to the council. But a person I greatly respect said that diversity was a very important consideration for them and it was the right time for a change. After a short cooling off period, (i.e. a two hour walk), I realized my friend and the council were right – we need to know how a younger, diverse generation of disenfranchised folk sees things; and we need to know what they want to do to make things better. Nevertheless, I get chills thinking that some of the young lions waiting in the wings might just see me, an old white guy, as an ailing wildebeest to be picked off the back of the pack and done away with.
I agree that organizations and boards need to bring on younger, more diverse groups so that the “old white guys” don’t monopolize the power structure. But, it seems odd that just as someone reaches the apex of sound judgment, life experience, education, and relationships built over a lifetime with community shakers and movers, they are asked to step aside.
Still, I don’t plan to just step aside, even though I may not be anyone’s choice for board and political appointments because of how I look. I will start by passing along some advice provided by a 100 year-old member at my gym. He served in multiple wars and lived a righteous career as a community pastor wanted to give two valuable lessons to the young people out there:
First, he said, ”Many community elders have a plethora of life experiences and lessons they have learned, and can impart great wisdom to those who are willing to listen.” Second, “Don’t waste or take for granted once in a lifetime chances you are given. Many of us worked extremely hard for those few chances we were provided.”
And I will continue to offer my advice, insight, assistance and support to the diverse pride of young lions that will take us forward; and I have faith that you will do the right thing when your time comes.
And, as for the common complaint from the younger generation that the people in power “do not look like me,” that should be a good thing, as in the last few years we have put on a few pounds, lost hair in some places and grew new ones elsewhere. You don’t want to look like us.