The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Being a Good Teammate Means Being a Good Friend
Toyloy Brown III
headshot

Names have been changed.

I was on the basketball court outside my apartment one spring Friday afternoon; it’s where I usually am on Fridays. I like to practice my jump shot and then transition into playing a game once other kids show up.

The weather was perfect for playing basketball: sunny skies and minimal wind. I shot around on a small side basket on the large frontcourt. The basket had no net. After a while my friend Tommy came to the court. We don’t go to the same school and I only know him from the neighborhood court, yet he is still one of my closer friends.

We had both just come from a street game so we didn’t talk or say hi. Instead, we just shot around without conversation.

After about 20 minutes, an older teenager I don’t know walked over to Tommy while I was frustratingly missing all of my jump shots. He was taller and stronger than us. He was black, no facial hair, wore a plain white t-shirt, sagging light blue jeans, Jordans, and had a low haircut.

“What’s up, Tommy?” he said. He went on to grab and tease my friend.

“Come on, man, let me go please…. please!” Tommy shouted. But the guy wouldn’t let go. He kept him in a hold, and Tommy got more upset and embarrassed.

“Why are you playing basketball when you’re trash? You can’t shoot or dribble. Why would you play if you’re f-cking garbage,” he taunted.

At first it seemed like this guy was just annoying. But after a few minutes the situation changed.

“I’ll let you go once you stop screaming like a little b-tch. If you don’t I’ll use this knife!”

Too Guilty to Face Him

I’d been half-watching the whole thing while shooting and getting my rebounds. The bully pulled a knife, but I didn’t think to try to stop him or run to the police. I don’t know why but I did not fully realize how serious the situation could have become.

The guy suddenly let Tommy go. “Finally you’re done screaming like a little b-tch.”

image by YC-Art Dept

Tommy speed-walked toward his house. I knew he was already humiliated from being tormented. He didn’t want to look even weaker by running away scared. The bully didn’t approach me, and I went home too.

Later I questioned why I hadn’t helped my friend. I replayed what happened over and over in my head. I knew I should have done something. I felt guilty. I realized I’d been a bad friend. But this was the first time I had been a witness to bullying.

I felt so guilty that I was unable to face him. I didn’t go to the basketball court for about a week. I didn’t call or text him to see how he was. In retrospect, I believe my reaction was a combination of immaturity and poor decision-making.

I thought about how I am on the basketball court. I take pride in being a good teammate. I always try to make thoughtful decisions like passing the ball to the open man. When a player falls on the court I rush to see if he’s OK and help him get up. I realized that being a good teammate means being a good person off the court, too, but I hadn’t behaved that way when Tommy was attacked.

A Second Chance to Stand Up

We saw each a few weeks later, and Tommy seemed fine, as if he’d forgotten about it. We got right back into our routine, hanging out on the court after school.

I was lucky that Tommy didn’t get hurt and that my failure to help him didn’t affect our friendship. Still, I decided I wouldn’t let the same thing happen again. Next time I was a witness to bullying, I would step in.

So one day during summer camp that year, I saw that one of my friends was continually being teased for acting a little feminine. The kids that picked on him were aggressive and unfriendly. “Why do you talk so weird? You always hang out with girls,” they’d say to him.

This time I wasn’t going to stand by doing nothing.

“Yo, why are you saying those type of things to him? It’s not cool and makes you look pretty dumb. If the shoe was on the other foot, you wouldn’t like it, so knock it off,” I said.

“All right, whatever, man, we were just having fun,” said one of the kids. After that those kids never bothered my friend again.

I continue to be an ally rather than a bystander if I witness an injustice that I am capable of stopping. Being a true friend is not just sharing words. It is even more strongly conveyed through actions.

This experience taught me a lot. The most important thing I learned is that a good teammate supports you in a competitive environment, but a great teammate supports you in every environment.

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(NYC-2018-03-23)

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