More often than not, we can miss an opportunity. A chance to make a bold statement. Be an atmosphere changer. We had an experience with this recently and it made me realize just how much we can control the positive views given out to the universe.

Our family is very uncommon. I have several children that are exceptional athletes, and several that are exceptional students. Sometimes, the two cross and are found in one single child producing an exceptional nature seen both in their sport and academics. This isn’t a mommy saying “you’re amazing”, they have the accolades to back it up. I was particularly challenged recently by an encounter I experienced with my son that fits the model student-athlete to a tee.

We were at his schools’ awards ceremony where we had been informed that he would receive an award. I was really looking forward to seeing it. He had worked hard to maintain excellent grades and be active in his sport. He even went above and beyond doing work and testing in advance to travel the country and play. We were very proud of how hard he worked. Not just because he did well, but because he did it all on his own. Every teacher’s meeting. Being prepared for early exams. Studying. Not once did we have to say do your work, or have you done your work. He was extremely disciplined and the reward was a successful year all around.

I sat anxiously. I knew he would get an award, but he didn’t. His school is pretty impressive. You feel like you are in college and the expectations are high. His class was exceptional. With almost half having achieved above a 3.3 GPA. He was right at home being numbered among the upper half of the students. Everyone laughed when he stood on the front row blocking several of his classmates from their parent’s view. When the course specific academic awards came he did receive one for physical education. As his 6’3”, 14-year-old frame walked across the stage to receive the award, no one was surprised.

I waited and taped the entire ceremony…knowing there would be something more. There wasn’t. I was sure that there would be. Math and science are his strongest subjects. He learned that while he was recommended for those subjects as well as physical education, he could only receive one.

The school simply missed the opportunity. There, in that auditorium were doctors, lawyers, business owners, and stay at home moms who walked away with that stereotypical image of this tall athletic kid being nothing more than good at sports. While he did make the honor roll, so did half his graduating class. But being recognized by the faculty and staff for either math or science would have painted a totally different picture. I am very glad that he wasn’t phased by the ceremony. But as his sister stated she would have rather gotten a math or science award. His Grandfather was angered, and I searched my heart to understand my responsibility in this. I understood where they were coming from. For his Grandfather, he had to fight to get equal pay in his profession of engineering. For Javon’s great grandmother, she had to push to be seen, let alone equal as a college professor in the sciences who was once offered a job to work for NASA. She likely would have become like one of those that were honored in the movie Hidden Figures. Present but not seen.

As a young African-American man, there is a struggle to be seen beyond the image people see on the outside. My mother taught school for 35 years and raised me to live in the above average. My husband was raised to do the same. Now my position is to advocate for my child. Not because I am an angry mom who feels he was cheated out of an honor. His honor comes from being passionate about the desires of his heart and performing to the best of his God-given abilities…both on and off the court. He works for an audience of One. However, sometimes people just don’t get it. They can’t see how one slight change in recognition might forever change someone’s stereotypical view. The missed opportunity wasn’t for Javon and his self-image. It was for all of those watching to see him for then just another ball player.

Have you ever been confronted with a situation that was uncomfortable and difficult to process? Did you speak up or just pretend it never happened? I have to admit that I wanted to shy away from this confrontation. I KNOW that the teachers and faculty know my child and love his contributions the classroom. They are aware of how well he does in the classroom. But people who don’t know the real him will never know if I don’t speak up.

More often than not we miss the teachable moments to help guide people to be aware of what is being stated in the unspoken picture of actions. Actions speak louder than words is for real. So if you see someone who should be honored, you take the time to honor them. They may never hear it from anyone else, but it is a huge boost in the life of a child to hear “well done”. If you need to stand up for your child, don’t just go with the flow. Process and prepare. Now, please don’t call up the friend who says curse everyone out. That will get you nowhere. But go with the right attitude and the right heart. And I promise you that when we do things with the right heart, change will continue to come.