What’s in it for you?

December 1, 2014 By Tom

Note: this has been on my mind for a while and after an incredible meeting I had today that went beyond expectations, my mind drifted to this story from much earlier in 2014.

I’ve given some serious time between when this event happened and finally sitting down to write about it. I did it because I didn’t know how to write this post.

Early in 2014 during our reboot to Nine13sports 2.0, I had a meeting here in Central Indiana and I was pitching to get into a new program site to a group of men who were involved with this site. I was the only white male in the room (not unusual), and I was the youngest person in the room by 20+ years (not unusual).

I was the one with visible tattoos. I had multiple earrings in. My usual messy/spiked hair. Jeans and a polo and Chuck Taylors on my feet. It was just another day at the office for me.

It was an hour meeting and the first 45 minutes went incredibly well. Great discussion about our programs and how they would benefit students, active engagement in terms of how we find a funding solution for said programs. It was a pretty easy meeting up until a pivotal moment.

There was one gentleman in the room who barely said two words, an older African American man, in his early 60’s, a man who grew up in Indianapolis and has been involved with civic, political and social leadership for much of his life. I tried to engage him in conversation but he let others answer on his behalf. He sat there with a cold stare, uninterested and with something burning in his mind.

life lessons from two wheels

Until, he spoke for the first time and asked, “You’re a young white kid from the suburbs, what do you get out of working with inner-city minorities? What’s in it for you?”

Shocked and without a rebuttal, I struggled for words. I bit my tongue for a moment as the initial anger came over me. I gripped my pen tighter as I became more enraged at the atrocity of that question.

The others in the room were clearly uncomfortable with the question as well. The room was silent, the silence was thickening by the moment and as I felt my anger begin to fade, I replied:

“I’m here because I found a way to make a difference. Because I want to make a difference. Because I don’t look at it from a racial stand point, or a socioeconomic view. But if that’s how you want to examine everything, I think we’re done here. If you expect me to bring my staff into an environment where that’s your lead question–you’re out of your mind.”

And then I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I clicked my pen, I closed my notebook. I handed out my business cards and said “thanks for your time”, and I walked out. Meeting over, drop the mic, walked straight out to my car…drove around the corner to a fast food joint and sat in the parking lot for 20 minutes in disbelief of what just happened.

A few days later I received a call from one of the other men in the meeting. “That was an unfair way to address you and an unfair representation of our organization–please accept our apologies. That individual is no longer involved with this process and we would like to find a way to work with you still.”

I wish this story had a happy ending and I could say we found a way to get into the site and provide life changing programs for the students with a tangible impact and have an amazing success story, but I don’t. I put it on them to schedule a meeting to talk logistics and never heard back. We’ve been so busy I let it slide and was not worried about that one site when we had so many good ones on our plate. But I realize now, looking back, that with leadership like that Nine13sports needs to be in there with an even bigger presence to make an impact on the lives of the kids.

So, after I hit “post”, I’ll be sending an email to that nice man who followed up with me to see how we can move things forward.

And to answer his question, “what’s in it for me?”—I’ve documented that time and time again with the moving stories from work. I’ve shared the highs and the lows and have always put the kids first. I’ve fought every step along the way to get us to where we are today as an organization. It’s not about what’s in it for me, it’s about what we can do for the kids.