My Five Heroes

I used to idolize football players and coaches, revering them as my new gods who couldn’t do anything wrong. I was quickly brought back down to earth when those same athletes and their playcallers let me down and I began to see them as simply men. In a society where reality stars and athletes make enough money to feed all those living in poverty, I took note of who I held in high esteem and who I should be influenced by instead. Instead of praising these people as otherworldly perfect humans, I learn from them as they inspire me to be a better person. 

Bernie Sanders is the first political leader who excited me and helped me believe in a safer, healthier future for all Americans. The old grandpa who caught my eye in 2015 has been standing up for the same rights and equality his entire life, which earned all of my respect. I followed his presidential campaign every day in 2016 and was heartbroken as he stepped down to back Hillary Clinton at the DNC. Bernie continues to inspire me as he went right back to work after the loss, vouching for access to women’s healthcare, LGBTQ and civil rights, medicare for all, $15 minimum wage, reforming wall street, fighting climate change, etc. He’s been an honest and true politician (how many others can say the same thing?) his entire career and I’m proud to honor him.

Grace Lee Boggs is one of my newest female superheroes as I discovered her after her passing. Grace was one of the nation’s oldest and most impactful activists for seven decades. As the daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, Grace learned about racism and inequality from a young age. She spent most of her life on the streets of Chicago planting community gardens, creating positive organizations, writing books, marching against racism, discussing the civil rights movement and befriending social justice leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. After she married fellow activist James Boggs in Detroit, Grace focused more on issues affecting black lives and founded youth programs and charter schools.

Antonia Brenner is another female icon who became known as the Prison Angel. As a nun, Antonia found a passion for prisoners in Tijuana. While she initially started a ministry with the prison system as a visitor, she eventually moved into the women’s wing of the La Mesa State Penitentiary where she would voluntarily spend most of her days in a 10 x 10 cell. Antonia lived in the prison for 30 years of her late life where she cared for the inmates daily needs, sold them sodas, led worship services, bailed out many with her income and buried any who passed away during their incarceration. She treated each prisoner with respect and kindness and she truly was an angel.

Bill Snyder is my all time favorite football coach. He is the sweetest grandpa figure in the sports world (I’ve never met him but I can only imagine his kindness) and I’ve gushed about him in detail here and here) and he’s the man who inspired me to coach one day. Although I’ve passed up on that dream, I still respect him greatly and the ways he positively impacts the lives of his players. I once read that he sends handwritten cards to almost every person he comes in contact with and I couldn’t believe how thoughtful and pure he is. I know football is just a game, but it has the power to transform lives with the right direction and Bill Snyder is the perfect coach to make that impact.

Colin Kaepernick may not be the most popular public figure in the present, but I truly believe he will be regarded as a hero in history books. Just as the lead figures in the civil rights movement such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X were met with hatred and anger from spectators of their time, they are often praised and revered in today’s society. Freedom riders and participants in diner sit ins were assaulted, beaten and harassed because their perpetrators knew that the young African American people were making a positive impact on society. Colin sacrificed his career in order to raise awareness of and protest police brutality in America and the lack of care and respect for black lives. He is one of today’s civil rights heroes.