Inspired by Basketball History X
I love movies! When I was a kid, going to the movie theatre was like an adventure! I still have vivid memory of my first couple visits and watching E.T. and Annie on the big screen. It was amazing!
I also remain a firm believer in the medium of film to inspire and change the way people think. I was deeply impacted by watching Cry Freedom as a 12 or 13 year old. Here was a film that was dealing with the atrocity of apartheid WHILE IT WAS STILL HAPPENING! Theatres that dared to show the film in South Africa received bomb threats! The film challenged the viewer to see the brutality of this racist system of separation. It blew me away!
It is no surprise then that film also impacted by goals and dreams. For the majority of my youth I wanted to be an actor, however, as great a goal as that was, it wasn't the actors themselves, but the characters on the screen that truly had the greatest impact on me. I want to highlight two characters, from two different films that were key, along with many other factors, in inspiring me to become a youth mentor.
The first clip I want to show is from the movie The Basketball Diaries. Leo Dicaprio plays Jim Carroll in this true story about addiction and redemption.
This scene depicts Jim as a young man who is creative and deeply troubled. Fortunately for him he has Reggie in his life; just a guy from the neighbourhood who has befriended Jim and shoots hoops with him. No score in this game, just healthy competition and fun! Reggie is the first character I want to highlight, investing him time in the youth of his community. We'll get back to this tale soon, but first I want to introduce our second character.
The film American History X is one of my favourite films of all time. Dr. Sweeney is not in the clip you are about to see, but he figures prominently in it. The clip highlights the difficulty of trying to have a positive impact in someone's life. Not only do we often have to battle things like addiction and twisted ideologies (which we will see later). Sometimes you have to battle through other human influences, even parents, who have planted lies into the mind, hearts and spirits of their children. Derek Orchard (played by Edward Norton) is clearly inspired by Dr. Sweeney, but what chance does that inspiration have of taking root when he is also inspired by and has a deep admiration for a Father who stands opposed to what Dr. Sweeney is trying to bring to life in Derek?
Derek's father is a firefighter and is murdered. The murderer happens to be a black man which roots in Derek the seeds of racism that were planted there by his Father.
No matter who we are there are lies that get planted in our lives. It might be the lie of drugs which seem to promise relief from the pain in our lives, only then to deepen the pain and bring us closer to the edge of destruction, this was the case for Jim Carroll. It might be the lies that tell us, that for whatever reason, some people are superior or more important than others. That lie might take the form of racism, like with Derek Orchard, it might take more subtle forms like thinking that driving a more expensive car, or the neighbourhood you live in, or the music that you listen to, or the religion you subscribe too somehow makes you, or anyone else better than another. There are many other lies too; "You are not important", "You are not beautiful", "You are a loser", "If you just do (fill in the blank) people will love you", the lies go on and on and on.
When those lies are allowed to take root and grow, they can twist a person's spirit and take some pretty ugly forms. Bulimia, drug addiction, going from one bed to the next to the next, chronic depression and anxiety, workaholism, consumerism, domestic violence; the list of the forms that lies take in our lives are as long as the list of lies themselves. Derek Orchard is twisted by the lies he has believed in American History X, he murders a young black man, and at his arrest, seems proud.
That twisted grin to his brother is quite a moment. It is having an impact on the next generation. Derek is a mentor and person of influence himself, but chooses to make his impact spreading the lies that he has believed as truth.
What this clip really shows is how deep the lies can go and how twisted we can become by them. Most people would be ready to write Derek Orchard off at this point. "He's too far gone." "There's no hope left for him." It can seem that way for many people; like there is no point in investing in their lives, we might as well give up on them. Now Derek is a murderer and headed for jail; too late right?
I want to flip back to The Basketball Diaries before we continue with Derek's story, because the lies that Jim has believed have also led him to a place where most would give up on him. He has long abandoned the basketball courts and his no-score games with Reggie. Addiction has become his life and his undoing. He has come to the end of his story, or what could have been the end of his story, if not for someone who cared. Reggie finds Jim frozen in the snow after a violent encounter. He picks him up and brings him home. Reggie flushes Jim's drugs and decides to save Jim's life "twice in one day" by using his apartment as a detox for Jim.
You can see the pain in Reggie's eyes as he hold Jim and tries to help him through the painful process of detox. Reggie makes Jim's pain his own as he holds back the tears while Jim excruciatingly cries out to him for help and relief from the pain. Perhaps even more amazingly is that when Jim gets the chance he steals from Reggie and ends up back on the street before cleaning out again in jail and finally being able to leave the lie of drugs behind and pursuing a life of writing, poetry and music. At the very end of the movie, Jim is doing a public performance of his writing and there is Reggie standing at the back.
In prison Derek Orchard finally begins to question the lies that he has believed. For both characters it takes something dramatic, a near death experience and prison for Jim and for Derek prison as well and all the horror that he experienced, for them to finally be able to consider something other than the lies that were robbing them of life. When Derek is at his very lowest point, the person who turns up in his life is none other than Dr. Sweeney
(Warning: F-bomb in the clip)
The moment of saying "HELP ME" can be one of the strongest moments of someone's life. It might seem weak, but that is so far from the truth. The vulnerability involved in asking for help is profound, we are so afraid to appear weak that ironically, it takes great strength to admit our weakness and ask for help on our journey to change.
Dr. Sweeney is an amazing inspiration! What is he even doing there? Derek confessed to hate anyone with a different colour skin, yet here is a black man, showing him love and compassion. Dr. Sweeney does what so many would not do, he dares to care, dares to show love, dares to believe that change is possible and invest his time and his love in someone whose whole life ought to be considered a slap in the face.
I saw Jim Carroll and Derek Orchard in myself, although I never really struggled with addiction or racism. I had my own lies that I believed and those lies were influencing my beliefs and actions in ways that were leading my life down a treacherous path. In each of these films I was struck by something, "I would much rather, in my life, be a Reggie or a Dr. Sweeney!"
I have learned so much in my time as a youth mentor. One of the biggest lessons is that it is possible to have a presence in someone's life that helps speak truth so that the lies never take root to the extent that they did in Jim and Derek. There are kids whose stories don't include addiction or prison because of the mentors in their life.
Derek and Jim both try to bring the way they've changed and their new perspective to their friends, in neither case does that work well. In both cases there are consequences of previous choices made that cannot be undone. It is not always a perfect happy ending, but it is life and it is a life that has latched onto hope and hope is like turning on a light switch when you've been stumbling in the darkness.
What Reggie and Dr. Sweeney did show us though is that it is never too late. We don't have to give up on someone, even if everyone else already has. The other way they inspire me is this; while Jim and Derek's friends did have the bigger, immediate, short-term influence on their lives, Reggie and Dr. Sweeney had the long-term impact. It was the friendship with a positive, older role-model in their lives that helped them break free of the lies that were enslaving their lives and find a measure of freedom.
I hope you can be as inspired by Reggie and Dr. Sweeney as I have been. There are countless ways to invest your life in the lives of those around you and in ways that break the lies that people are entrapped in. Dr. Sweeney and Reggie are True Rebels because they model the way that mentoring starts; with the commitment to show love, dignity and respect to all, especially those who need it most and perhaps, we might think, deserve it the least.
Or, perhaps, you are in a place where what you need most is to find the Dr. Sweeney or Reggie in your life; they are there. Someone who will believe in you, encourage you and be in your corner, even when it feels like no one else is. It might be an aunt, uncle, a mom, a dad or a teacher.
If you really feel like you don't have a Dr. Sweeney in your corner, I would love to hear from you email@example.com and provide the encouraging word that perhaps no one else will provide.