Lection Connection

July 19, 2020: Presence

From Sandra Rooney


Some dreams come to us when we’re sleeping, others live in our minds when we’re awake. Sometimes we think we understand what our dreams are saying to us, sometimes not. Arshay Cooper, now an accomplished chef in New York, had an unexpected circumstance change his life, and out of that experience a dream grew – a dream to help young black men escape the gang lives that might otherwise have trapped them, to help them develop their potential and live the lives they dreamed of living.


Cooper grew up on the west side of Chicago, a place he said they called “holy city” because the gangs were vice lords. Every day his challenge was to get to the bus, get to school, and get home again in the afternoon without running into the gangs. Home was a challenge, too. His mother was a drug addict and his brothers were in gangs. There was no “dad” in his life.


One day in the lunchroom, he saw a boat and wondered what that was all about. A lady asked him if he wanted to join crew. He had no idea what that was, but it didn’t sound good. She took him behind the boat and there, on a TV monitor, he saw the Olympic Games. But what he also saw were white guys rowing. He told her no way, “We don’t even swim.” The next day, the boat was still there and a notice read, “Sign up and get free pizza.” Well, then everybody was signing up.


They sat on the floor with their pizza and heard a guy talk about the power of rowing and the power of the water to change your life; rowing could give you an opportunity to go to college, to travel and to build a bond. That guy was coach Ken Alpart. He said there wouldn’t be a “Michael Jordan” in this sport, that it was the ultimate team sport. Alpart had a vision, a dream of changing young people’s lives, and some those boys caught his vision.


Cooper says just getting out of the neighbourhood for a while felt good. He found being on the boat was calm, peaceful, and quiet. He said, “You hear the sound of the blade hitting the water and it’s rhythmic, and it’s meditation.” That was how it was for him every day for a couple of hours. He said it calmed the storm in him, his anger, and gave him a sense of peace.


At first the boys didn’t get along. They were from different neighbourhoods, different gangs. That changed when they went to a regatta where everyone else was white. They realized they had no choice, they had to pull together and they learned to count on each other. They realized they were strong and tough. They were trained by their coach to be great humans first and to be contributors to their community. Then it was about winning. “We didn’t win gold,” Cooper said, but we got into water and overcame everything that life threw our way. “We won in life,” he said.


To this day, Cooper and his teammates keep in touch. “We’re brothers,” he said. None went on to be Olympic or college rowers, but 90% of them are entrepreneurs. They hire people in their communities and they give back. That was always the goal, Cooper said: “to use the sport of rowing, to be leaders and to learn and to contribute.” And that’s what they do.


Explore…Genesis 28:10–19a

  • What parallels do you see between today’s scripture and this story?
  • When have you experienced a sense that God was directing your life?
  • What in today’s challenges feels like it might be a call to you?


Prayer links…

Eternal Spirit, in these days of many dreams, we pray that we may sense your presence, not only in our dreams but in the dreams of others, as we seek to build a better tomorrow for all your human family. Amen.


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