Braving the cold weather and barely able to feel my fingers and toes, I was one of the 700,000 fans who lined the parade route in downtown Seattle to celebrate the city’s first Super Bowl victory last week. As I waited along Fourth Avenue to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I could not help but take a moment to reflect on the meaning of “opportunity.”
A quick search online defines “opportunity” as “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.” For the Seahawks, it took years of planning, preparation, dedication, and hard work to become a championship team. You see, this isn’t a championship team made of first round draft picks. Each player on this roster has their own remarkable story of beating great odds and making the best of their opportunities, both on the football field and in their personal lives. And if the opportunity wasn’t there, they created it.
Russell Wilson was told that he was too short to become a winning quarterback. Coach Pete Carroll gave him the opportunity to prove that he had what it took, and in turn, Wilson now goes down in National Football League (NFL) history as the quarterback with the most games won in the first two seasons in the NFL.
In a recent Duracell commercial, Derrick Coleman shares his story of becoming deaf at age 3 and overcoming great adversity to be the first hearing-impaired offensive player in the NFL. Sheer determination, hard work, and opportunities helped Coleman excel on and off the football field.
Like Sherman, I had a supportive mother who instilled the value of education.
Then there is Richard Sherman. Raised in Compton, Sherman’s mother works with disabled children and his father is a garbage truck driver. They always preached the value of education and rewarded their children every time they came home with A’s on report cards. Sherman was salutatorian at his high school and went on to Stanford University, where he continued to excel as a student-athlete.
These are just a few of the many profound stories found within the Seahawks’ locker room. However, these stories are not unique to athletes. In fact, I am reminded of my own story of growing up in South King County and North Portland and beating the odds.
In Washington State, one child in four comes from a family that struggles to pay for basic necessities such as food, housing, and utilities. Growing up, I was one of those children. Raised by a single mother in a low-income household, we depended on food stamps, lived in subsidized housing, and I relied on free and reduced lunches during my primary and secondary education.
Like Sherman, I had a supportive mother who instilled the value of education. My mother had only a first grade education. She came from a poor rural farm family, and her youth was overshadowed by genocide from her war-torn home country of Cambodia during the 1970s. Even though my mother did not receive a formal education, she knew that educational opportunities meant the chance out of poverty and into a better life for the both of us.
Without opportunities, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
Opportunities elevate the people around us and the community in which we live. As a member of the Pacific Northwest Initiative (PNW) at the Gates Foundation, I am honored to work alongside dedicated team members and grantee partners to create opportunities for youth in Washington State to thrive in stable families, great schools, and strong communities. In PNW, we work to strengthen public systems of care and institutions that were established to support youth and families isolated by poverty, adversity, and inequity.
As the Seahawks proved, there is no challenge too big if people come together and champion for a common goal. If we can fill the streets of downtown Seattle with 700,000 motivated people in a few hours, imagine what we can do together to create opportunities for our youth in Washington State. Thank you Seattle Seahawks for giving us the chance to celebrate and for reminding us about the power of opportunity.