by Joe Fox
The following is the text of a memo I sent to staff and coaches of the Recreation Department yesterday (Aug. 14). I felt it is important for you to know what we stand for.
— Joe Fox, Director of Recreational Programs (St. Johnsbury)
In light of the most recent despicable instances of bigotry and hatred currently dominating the media, and in light of the fact that I haven’t slept in 48 hours due to my anger and sadness that we live in a time in which torch-wielding individuals can march onto a college campus waving Nazi flags and spewing racial epithets; I decided to put my thoughts to paper. After spending many hours in disgust, I have decided to re-focus on what I can do in my personal and professional life to do everything possible to work towards the end of hatred and violence.
In my opinion, no public entity can do greater work towards tearing down hatred and division than a public recreation department, and as such I wanted to formalize what I expect from every single person associated with this department. Please read on.
The definition you are most likely the most familiar with for recreation is:
1. refreshment by means of some pastime, agreeable exercise, or the like.
2. a pastime, diversion, exercise, or other resource affording relaxation and enjoyment.
Recreation is a critical part of people’s lives, providing needed respite from life stressors and positive outlets for leisure time, and it is truly an honor to be able to serve people during this precious time in their lives, however, the definition by which I seek to focus on is:
1. the act of creating anew.
Through the work you do in our department, you have not only the opportunity, but the increasingly important moral obligation to “create anew” our community; to create an environment where all feel welcome; where religion, skin color, gender, economic status, educational level and more are completely inconsequential; where your individual behavior as part of larger community should be the only thing that matters; where people feel safe, included and valued.
Hatred isn’t inherent, it is learned. It can also be unlearned. Under your care are children that have the potential to be great civil rights leaders as well as torch-wielding Nazis. I cannot overstate the fact that much of how they turn out is shaped at young ages from people like you: parents, coaches, teachers and camp counselors. More immediately, they are children that can lead happy, healthy lives from a feeling of being a valuable part of something bigger than themselves, or they can be left on the sidelines; saddened, confused and with seeds of anger growing from feelings of being left out due to some external label thrown on them from feeling like anything other than a valuable part of the team.
I am asking every single member of our department to consciously include as many people as you can into helping re-create this community into a thriving, healthy and happy place that is safe for all. Humans are social animals…they want to be included. Let’s get parents to games and practices instead of hate rallies. Let’s get kids in sports instead of gangs. Get them involved. Get them talking. Challenge their prejudices.
It goes without saying that hate has no place here, but I am asking for more than that. I am asking every member of this department to not only reject hatred and violence in all forms, to discuss racism and sexism with your players, but to remind yourself that every day you are literally helping re-create our society. Whether that society is more or less inclusive and loving rests in part on your role in this department. It is a massive responsibility, and I hope you feel as honored as I do to be entrusted with it. A new and better society starts here. It starts now. It starts with us.
I look forward to working with you all and watching the children under our care grow into adulthood teaching the same valuable life lessons they learned as kids in St. J Rec programs.
Note: Joe Fox has been recreation director in St. Johnsbury since 2005. He is an employee of St. Johnsbury Academy.