High School rivalries are a strange phenomenon. They generate an intense semi-animosity between young men and women who are, by most accounts, the same. Students at Trinity and LD Bell, for instance, come from the same geographic and economic atmospheres. They frequent the same places, listen to the same music and play the same games. Ask any of them if there's a difference between their schools, however, and they're sure to tell you that there is. Theirs is better.
Both schools are academically excellent. Bell boasts a nationally recognized music program. Trinity represents a true football dynasty in a state renowned for the sport. In many other fields, the competition is fiercely balanced. But in one way, students at both schools face a challenge that is just as paradoxically similar-yet-one-sided as the rivalry itself.
“I saw how [poverty] affected a lot of the kids and the potential they had in school… After being in North Dakota, I brought it back to my community and saw where that could take place also.”
Close to half of students in the Hurst Euless Bedford Independent School District live near or below the poverty line. It's not some dark secret or mark of shame; it's a fact. One that should be addressed with positive perseverance rather than retreat or disdain. We as a community should never judge our success in terms of dollars and cents, haves or have-nots. Instead, our progress ought to be marked by each person's sense of value and capability within the community. We need to be on a level playing field not only in terms of resource, but also in opportunity and self-esteem.
Enter Allison Okruch, a junior and a volleyball player at Lawrence D. Bell High School in Hurst. In the seventh grade, Allison was given an assignment that changed her life and countless others: write a letter about a social issue and send it to someone who can take action.
Write she did.
“I sent it to Scott Shepherd, thinking that it wasn't going to turn into anything big,” Allison recalled. “that he wasn't really going to read it because he was a Director of a big organization.”
But 6 Stones is not a private organization with a private agenda. We are a focal point around which this community can build a coalition in pursuit of change. We are a catalyst of hope. That means we listen and respond to members of the community. We empower them to empower each other. We build a better world, side by side with the people in it. For Allison, a better world was one in which every student had access to the basic necessities that many of their classmates take for granted. Her pursuit of that world began with the long walk from English class to the Principal's office.
“Towards the end of my seventh grade school year, my English teacher came up to me and told me that my principal wanted to talk to me.” Allison said. “That never really happens because I don't get in trouble a lot… He told me that Scott Shepherd wanted to meet with me, which I thought was super crazy: why would you read a seventh grader's letter that she had to do for English?”
Together with 6 Stones Executive Director Scott Shepherd, she designed a better form of rivalry for local schools. One in which every classroom in every school, K-12, joins together with us to collect food for those who need it most, without any judgement or sense of superiority. It's not something we all do to feel good, either; we do it simply because we care about the people around us. Since its inaugural year, the Black vs Blue Food Drive has helped students and teachers across the district to gather literal tons of food to level the playing field in their schools. In this rivalry, it's not about dismantling one's opponent. It's about outdoing them in showing love.
“My classmates and teachers, what they have to bring to it is really cool,” Allison told us. “I remember in eighth grade, after it all started, teachers were getting all pumped about it because it was a competition. They'd be giving out free homework passes!”
Much as she'd hate that we say it — it took a flurry of emails and meetings to even get her in front of the camera, whereupon she actively attempted to avoid taking much of the credit for herself — Allison has done something special. She's taken hold of our mission here, and she's let it take hold of her as well. She's looked into the face of adversity and challenged it with passion. She's stared down hunger and poverty and said “bring it on.”
She says that her favorite thing about the drive is that it works on all levels, not just within the high schools. Every student in every class in every grade at every school in HEBISD wants the bragging rights (and the financial reward for their school) that come with winning Black vs Blue. It's one more way to topple a rival from down the road, but it leaves fewer bruises and does a lot more good. Really, this is the match-up that should mean the most to students and alumni alike: after all, if you can't care about, love and provide for your neighbors as well as your enemies can, does it really matter how much better than them you are at moving a ball?
“Find something you're passionate about and turn it into your project and your mission field.”
Sooner or later, the reality that we were meant for more than this broken world sets in on people. It lights a fire under them; makes it hard to be content with meaningless victories as they thirst for the kind of win that matters. There's a reason that professional athletes are constantly participating in charities. We think it's because winning at life together is better than winning at competition alone. It's the intermingling of those two things that makes this food drive wonderful, and it's the passion behind it that makes it last. In Allison's words:
“Find something you're passionate about and turn it into your project and your mission field. For me it's poverty and helping others become what they want to be and showing them that they are successful… I became passionate about it because in fourth grade I started going on mission trips to an Indian Reservation in North Dakota… I saw how that affected a lot of the kids and the potential they had in school to be more than [their circumstance allowed them to be]. After being in North Dakota, I brought it back to my community and saw where that could take place also.”
We're glad she did.