Jay and Bekah discuss the Boston Red Sox Foundation, her career path from high school to college to professional soccer, and how she ended up at the Red Sox Foundation, the IMPACT Awards and everything in between.
Bekah Salwasser joined the Red Sox Foundation as the Executive Director in January of 2018. Bekah earned her B.A. in Psychology from Brown University and brings extensive experience in philanthropy and both professional and semi-professional sports. After four years working as Community Relations Director for the Boston Celtics, Bekah went on to lead Scholar Athletes as its Executive Director, a program that supports public high school athletes with both their athletic and academic achievements. Earlier in her career, Bekah served as a professional soccer player for the Boston Breakers and as Executive Director of the Charlestown Lacrosse and Learning Center.
Jay Ruderman: I hope you’re all doing well during this trying time around the world. For die hard sports fans and the casual fan alike, sports can be a nice distraction from everyday life. For fans of Major League Baseball, the current situation has meant a longer hot stove season than we would like, but hopefully the Boys of Summer will be playing soon again.
Narrator: All Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation, and social justice with Jay Ruderman.
Jay: Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman, host of All Inclusive, and today we have the executive director of the Boston Red Sox Foundation, Bekah Salwasser, as our guest. Bekah, thank you for joining us and hope you and your family are doing well at this time. I just want you to tell us a little bit about your background and where you grew up and how you ended up where you are right now.
Bekah: Sure. I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I grew up in a very busy, chaotic, diverse family. I’m one of five children in a multiethnic racial family. My mom’s family is from Barbados, my dad’s family’s from Ireland, and so we grew up with a lot of different culture, a lot of different food, a lot of different music, and a lot of different people in our house all the time, which I look back and think of as a blessing just given the exposure I had to difference and diversity. I think that helped shape a little bit about my personal goals and personal missions which came to grow out of that experience of being part of an upbringing that was rooted in diversity.
Bekah: My mom and dad worked in Boston public school system for several decades each and recognize the need for good education. They worked, oftentimes, two and three jobs apiece to ensure that all five of us had access to the best education possible. For me, my pathway was through a private school in Cambridge called Buckingham Browne & Nichols. I was a lifer there from kindergarten through 12th grade. I look back at that time there as one where I was exposed to, again, a lot of diversity. Having grown up in a family with a lot of racial and ethnic diversity, again, we came from a background of low socioeconomic status, to being thrust into an environment where I was now experiencing the pathway of a minority in that situation, going to a school with such affluence.
Bekah: It was hard, but it was a very good experience for me because it allowed me to understand how to operate and succeed in various situations and circumstances. By that I mean, I feel like you could drop me in any group of people, whether that be differences of racial and ethnic differences, of socioeconomic differences, social differences, anything, and I feel like I could fit in. I learned very well how to adjust and assimilate to different situations and people with my experience at BB&N.
Bekah: The other huge asset I felt like having gone to BB&N gave me was exposure to various sports. For me, the love of athletics started very young. As I mentioned, I started at BB&N in kindergarten. That was the same year that I began Cambridge Youth Soccer, and it was an immediate love. Soccer for me is my one true passion, of course outside of my kids and my husband. It was something that I immediately gravitated towards. I often talk about soccer for me as a positive feedback loop, the more I put in, the better I got, and the more rewards and accolades I received. It just was this positivity that I really thrived on. I constantly was giving as much as I could to soccer and to sports, and through that, received a lot of recognition, particularly in high school, becoming an All-American in both soccer and lacrosse both my junior and senior year. Then that opened the doors to higher education in a way that I don’t think I would have the opportunity otherwise. Meaning if I didn’t play sports, I wouldn’t have gotten into as many colleges and universities as I did.
Bekah: I ended up going on to play soccer at Brown University and loved that school. It was very similar, I felt, to BB&N, in being a very liberal, laid back, hands off type of school. It also was very close to home and I grew up a homebody and oftentimes homesick, and so it was wonderful for me to have the proximity to my family that I needed. A couple of years of Brown was an amazing experience for me. I will say though, after Brown, I had no idea that I wanted to continue to play soccer because there wasn’t a professional sports team at the time. If you recall, the first professional women’s league started in 2003 with the WUSA, the Women’s United Soccer Association and I… or began in 2001, I’m sorry, 2001, because I got called down to the drafts to try out for it and I didn’t make it.
Bekah: I always reference that moment in my life in conversations because it was one of the toughest moments of my life. It was one of the first times that I experienced great failure. I was someone that oftentimes was the best, got the award, got the recognition. To go down to a combine thinking I was going to be the best, thinking I was going to get drafted on all these teams and then walking away being told, “Sorry you weren’t good enough, better luck next time,” was devastating for me. It was this real sliding doors moment in my life where I had to choose if I was going to continue to pursue soccer and a goal that at that moment I failed at, or if I was going to go into the real world and get a real job.
Bekah: I split the difference there and continued to play soccer at the semi-pro level while working. I started coaching at that time, I coached for Boston University and Boston College women’s soccer. I’m glad I stuck with soccer because two years in I got called up to play for the Boston Breakers in 2003, which was the professional women’s senior in Boston, and I had a really great season with them in 2003. Unfortunately the WUSA folded that year and if you follow them in soccer you’ll know that there’s been several iterations of the women’s pro league. My only exposure and experience with professional soccer was with that team in that year.
Bekah: After that league folded, I was like 23 I think at the time. I felt so old. What did I know? I decided to get a real job. That was my first experience working for a nonprofit. I worked for a small nonprofit called America SCORES, and that was a nonprofit that, for me, was the first time leverage both academics and athletics as the recipe for success. Little did I know that that recipe would follow through with almost every single job I had thereafter. After America SCORES, I went on to run Charlestown Lacrosse and Learning Center, a similar formula. I went on then, after, to run the community relations department for the Boston Celtics and running their Shamrock Foundation, their philanthropic arm. I then went on to run Scholar Athletes as an executive director, again, leveraging academics and athletics as the recipe for success. Now I am at the Boston Red Sox running the Red Sox Foundation.
Bekah: Again, we do run programs that try to combine, where we can, both academics than athletics as a recipe for success for young people. If you listen to that story, you’ll recognize the thread of sport throughout my entire life and I feel so privileged and lucky to be at the helm of such a great sports entity to influence change and create opportunity for young people through sport, given my experience and success through sport in my own life.
Jay: Let me ask you, going back to your time in school, did you experience discrimination and if you did, how did you deal with it?
Bekah: That’s a really good question, and the answer is yes. I would find it hard to believe that anybody that is not ‘different’ hasn’t experienced that unfortunate reality. For me, as I mentioned, I identify myself as an African American female. There were few and far between African Americans, period, at the school and even fewer African American females at the school. For me, coming into that environment and being one of the only women of color and having to represent an entire demographic is challenging when you’re 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. That’s a lot to ask of someone so young. For me, discrimination looked like someone coming up and touching my hair and saying, “Why does your hair look different? Why doesn’t your hair move like mine? Are you always that color?” Or someone coming up and saying, “Wow, nice tan,” and me saying, “I don’t have a tan, that’s my natural skin color.” Of course I heard the N-word throughout my experience at BB&N, never spoken at me directly, but in the periphery and in conversations that I was present at.
Bekah: It’s really hard. I mean, I look back and wish I had the coping mechanisms that I know now to be able to combat and address some of the discrimination I faced. But at the time I just internalized, I feel like, a lot of that unfortunately, and had to move forward through it without any real base to help me digest it and understand it. I do know that there were groups that I was part of that definitely helped like the Multicultural Students Alliance, the MSA was something I was part of. That was definitely a place where you could vent and talk about it. Teenagers are going through a lot and it’s really hard to process racism and discrimination and microaggressions that happen all the time, all over the place. That’s a long-winded answer to your question, which the short answer is yes.
Jay: When you faced this discrimination as a young African American woman, it must’ve been extremely difficult to deal with. Did you ever bring it to the authorities’ attention? I mean, what proactive actions did you feel comfortable taking at that time? I would also add, did that experience lead you to think differently about members of different minority groups that you may not have been part of, but may have seen similarities in terms of how they were also being treated?
Bekah: Yeah, and I’ll answer the latter first. My short answer there is absolutely. Again, not patting myself on the back, but I think if you asked anybody who I was in high school, I was very intentionally inclusive. I made it a point to talk to everyone, whether that was a brief, “Hello, how are you doing?” To actually engaging in a game or a conversation or something with those people. Meaning those people, everyone. But the cliques and the categories that you can identify across high schools, I really surfed across all of them, and I did that intentionally because I knew how it felt to be excluded, and I knew how it felt to be one of, or the only. I really tried to break down those walls of isolation and feeling solitude and exclusion, if you will.
Bekah: Again, I don’t know how much of a difference it made, although I do have a story to tell. A couple of years ago, I was at the aquarium with my kids and one of the ticket takers at the front desk said, “Bekah Splaine?” That’s my maiden name. I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Oh, it’s Eric,” and I was like, “Oh my God, how are you?” And he was like, “I’m good. I just want you to know how much it meant to me that you were so nice to me in high school.” I was like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, no, of course. Thank you.” That has stuck with me as really meaningful because you never know what people are going through. All you know is your own lived experience. I really just remember trying to be intentionally inclusive, as often as I can, across these categories of difference, whether that be someone is classified as being the smart kids and they weren’t really the popular kids. I married one of the smart kids. I married one of the kids I graduated with in high school and people are always, “You married Zac Salwasser? Wow, I never knew you guys were even friends.” The long answer is, yes. I tried to be as inclusionary as possible given my own experience of exclusion oftentimes.
Jay: I think the other question was, how comfortable did you feel raising the issue to authorities at the time?
Bekah: I have to say, I think that’s something I wish I did better. I didn’t really raise many of those issues to the authorities. I think partly because it felt so normal and the authorities were part of the majority. It was a difficult situation to try to go to someone that looked and talked and shared many of the same similar lived experiences as the people committing the offenses to say, “Hey, this person was doing so and so.” I think the place that I went and spoke about those experiences were the MSA, Multicultural Students Alliance, and my parents, and my brothers and sisters. I wouldn’t even say really my friends because most of my friends weren’t ethnic minorities and did not experience those experiences the same way I did. In that way, it was a very isolating experience in many ways, unfortunately.
Jay: Let me ask you, you’re an athlete and you’ve always been an athlete and an accomplished athlete. We’re recording this during the height, or the buildup to the height, of COVID-19 in the United States. On a personal level, what do you do to keep yourself active when most of us are isolated in our homes? What type of advice would you give to people, not only to keep themselves physically active, but how to deal with issues of mental health in isolation.
Bekah: Absolutely, and I’m going to go out on a limb and expose myself here and say that I feel like I have had a heightened level of anxiety over this time at my house. I’ve never spent so much time indoors, I’ve never spent so much time sitting, I’ve never spent so much time online. As you know, most of the news out there is a little bit anxiety-inducing. I’ve struggled recently with some increased levels of anxiety to the point where I’ve reached out to my PCP to have some conversations about that. Certainly looking into some conversations with a therapist to make sure that I get the help and assistance I need to make sure that that doesn’t go unchecked. I would just encourage anybody that’s experiencing anything like that to reach out to the resources that are available to them to make sure they’re taking advantage of them to ensure that they get the help that they need to address any issues that they see happening in these unprecedented times.
Bekah: I’ll commend the Boston Red Sox, because we have daily communication coming out from our HR department telling us about opportunities to reach out around mental health to make sure that we are speaking to the right types of people at the right times around any issues that we’re having. For me, this has played out with lack of sleep. I’m experiencing insomnia. I just have not been able to sleep the way that I have been. I think, for me, it’s because I’m now carrying the weight of having three children under seven, my kids, at the house. I’ve got to keep them alive, I’ve got to keep them fed, and most importantly educated. At the same time, my husband has to maintain his full-time job and I have to maintain my full-time job. Doing all of that under the pressure and umbrella of a growing pandemic is really, really frightening. I’ve suffered recently with some insomnia and anxiety issues.
Bekah: Again, I say that to lessen the stigma around talking about this stuff. I feel like too many people feel they’re going to be judged for saying that. I want people to know there should not be a stigma around talking about the issues that you have because I wager to bet that more people than you recognize are suffering with these issues. I would just encourage people to get outside, obviously maintain social distancing, but even if it’s taking a walk. I went for a walk around my block and I live in the city, I live in Dorchester, in Boston, and there was still a lot to see. I still had to maintain distance around people on the sidewalk, but it’d be so much mental good to just go outside and reconnect in my community and just get some fresh air and move my legs and just get outside of my physical house was very, very helpful.
Bekah: Unfortunately, I have an injury right now which prevents me from running and doing any kind of real exertion in terms of exercise. But I do have an ERG in my basement, a rowing machine, and I am able to do that. That has been my personal exercise recently. An ERG is great because as much as you throw at it, it can take. You can go hard for 10 minutes and get a really great workout. That’s about the time limit I have right now given the other priorities in my life with my kids and my job. That’s all I have to give to working out every day or every other day. But for other people, I encourage you to try to disconnect from the regular priorities that you’re facing and just give yourself 10, 15 minutes to just not think about any of that and to really just be in the moment of physical activity, whether that’s walking, whether that’s jogging, whether that’s even meditating, anything outside of just sitting still. I think the disconnection is what’s really, really important.
Jay: Well, first of all, I think that it’s so important. We’ve set up weekly times for our staff to do yoga together and constantly talking about mental health and where we are. Some people are dealing with it better than others, but there’s no judgment and we’re really encouraging people to get the help and to take care of themselves because this is a unprecedented situation where we’re stuck at home and we don’t know how long we’re going to be stuck at home. On top of that, we’re going to be faced with really, really sad situations where, if what happens happens that the government’s talking about, we’re all going to know people who are ill and passing away from this. It’s terrible these are the times that we’re living through.
Jay: I really want to commend you on a really impressive sports career. Sports is not easy, whether you do it junior varsity, varsity, college, professional. But one thing I’ve always wondered about professional athletes is, at someday, sometime it comes to an end. I mean, there’s a line in the movie Moneyball, which I’m sure you’ve seen, they’re talking about baseball players and they’re saying, at one point we’re all told that we can’t play the boys game. At some point it comes in little league or high school or college or in the minor leagues. But when your professional career ended, how did you deal with that?
Bekah: Yeah, that’s a really good question. The short answer is, not easily. It was a very emotional time for me. I played professionally for the Breakers, like I said, in 2003 but then I went on after that league folded. I couldn’t stop playing soccer, I loved it so much. When there was no pro league, I went back to playing semi-pro. I played semi-pro from 2004 and then I officially retired in 2011. It all just actually made the decision for me. 2011 was the year I got married, so I had stepped into having to plan a wedding and I met the man of my dreams, and I was moving on. We knew we wanted to have a family so I knew I couldn’t probably play forever.
Bekah: I also was playing with the team that, in 2011 we won a national championship at semi-pro level. I was like, “Let me go out on top. This is the perfect time. I’m the oldest player on this team, I’m captaining this team.” The best way I felt like I could have possibly ended my career short of playing professionally, because at that time I was still working a full-time job. I needed to have a soccer career that was symbiotic or worked in concert with my professional career at my career with Scholar athletes, being the executive director there.
Bekah: We ended up winning the national championship. It felt right. My body was starting to not do the things that my mind wanted it to physically. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep pace with the 22-year-olds that I was playing with, and so it just all felt right. Now that said, I cried for days, I think, after my last game, after we won. It was a joyous cry, but it was also a real sadness that I was never going to be able to play, I was choosing to not play, at the level that I once did. There was definitely a process that I needed to get through to feel like I had the right closure I needed to move on from my career.
Bekah: I would think that that is somewhat normal for a lot of players, is you’ve got to come to emotional grips with the end of your career. I feel very badly for those that are ended by an injury, because it’s not on your terms. For me, I felt lucky that I was able to choose the ending of my career and go out on top, going out on a game where I played the full 90, we won in the finals, we were national champions, I captained the team. I think I was even MVP of the game and so I got everything I could have out of that last moment of my professional career. I continued to play and I still continue to play, just not at that level.
Bekah: I think I will continue to play. Honestly, I plan a tournament every year called the Vets Cup and the classifications for age groupings are, over thirties, over forties, over fifties, sixties and seventies, if you can believe it. There are seventy-year-olds that come out and play and I’m like, “That’s totally going to be me, I think.” I’m 41 right now and I still play with the thirties, so that’s what makes me feel great because I can still play with 30-year-olds even though I’m looking 42 in 20.
Narrator: You’re listening to All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman. You can learn more, view the show notes and transcripts at rudermanfoundation.org/allinclusive.
Jay: Please remember to subscribe, rate and review us wherever you are listening.
Jay: Well, congratulations, again, on your career and your transition to working for the highest level of Boston professional sports teams, first working with the Celtics and now the Red Sox. Must be gratifying to have an integral part in some of the best teams around the world in professional sports. Maybe you can talk a little bit about getting involved with the Celtics and what you did there and then how that led to coming on to the Red Sox.
Bekah: As I mentioned, I was the community relations director and the Shamrock Foundation director for the Celtics. I’ll say that when I started, the biggest adjustment for me was actually seeing the discrepancy between how male professional athletes worked and lived and how I worked and lived. Just a sidebar, I made less than $15,000 a year as a professional soccer player. I was living with my sister, I didn’t even have my own car, literally lived paycheck to paycheck. Then juxtapose that with coming on to the Celtics and seeing male professional athletes with, I can’t even get into the numbers in terms of their contracts and the cars they drove, the houses they had, the jewelry they had, the salaries they were making. It was just night and day. I have to be honest, that was a little bit infuriating to me. Even the best paid women’s soccer player couldn’t even hold a candle to the lowest paid Celtics player.
Bekah: That was hard for me. It was a learning experience. I really loved my time at the Boston Celtics because if afforded me the ability to understand all that goes into making a pro team work, which I never really got having played for the Breakers. Of course my time was spent on the field, not in the office with the Breakers. Now I was at a desk behind the office. I was shocked at how many moving parts it took to actually execute a game for the Boston Celtics, let alone the season, and then the post season. It was mind-boggling how much work went into it. For me, running the foundation and the community relations department was just a dream because I essentially got to leverage the players, all the assets, all the inventory, to bring opportunity to the community.
Bekah: To be able to leverage a brand like the Boston Celtics for good was fun. I mean, I think that’s the best part I can give you, it was amazing. To connect the dots between the benefits and opportunity was great. By benefits, I mean what player. What type of work? He liked to go to a hospital, he liked to go to schools, he liked to work with young people, he liked to work for veterans. I’m looking in the community and saying, “Okay, let’s match you here. Let’s match you here, let’s match you here,” and then creating the programs in between to maximize the outcomes was really amazing. But it was a lot. I had to work every single home game. That was the mantra back then when I worked with the Celtics. I think they’ve since changed that.
Bekah: It was a lot of time spent at the TD Garden and a lot of time at the office. As I mentioned, I was looking to start a family and I knew it wasn’t something that I could sustain forever. I was approached by John Fish, who was the CEO of Suffolk Construction, to run his nonprofit that was called Scholar Athletes. That was a really exciting opportunity for me because it allowed me to get a little bit deeper into the direct service work. At the Celtics, I was a little bit removed from the direct service and more playing a connector of resources. At Scholar Athletes I was really getting my hands dirty with the work and really in the schools, in every single Boston public high schools, in Springfield public high schools, in the Everett high school, working with the administrators, working with the students to maximize their outcomes.
Bekah: I was there for seven years running that program and really starting it and growing it, which was a new opportunity for me as well. To understand how to start and then roll out and sustain a nonprofit was something new for me. While I was there, we ran galas every year as many nonprofits do to bring in unrestricted revenue. One of my gala co-chairs one of the years was none other than Sam Kennedy. Sam Kennedy is the CEO of the Boston Red Sox. Sam was my co-chair for one of the galas at Scholar Athletes. Given my role as executive director, I worked very closely with Sam, making sure that he had everything he needed to be a successful gala co-chair for Scholar Athlete. Little did I know that he was taking notes.
Bekah: Sam called me eight months later, or almost even a year after our time together, and just said, “Bekah, I recall working with you through this process at your gala and I really enjoyed working with you and your personality. It was great and work ethic and blah blah blah. Would you be interested in having a conversation about coming over to the Red Sox to run our foundation?” For me it was just, seven years at Scholar Athletes was amazing, but it was also a lot, a lot of work to get that organization up and running. I felt like, emotionally, I was ready for a change, and it was the Boston Red Sox, I mean, you can’t turn them down. I went out to lunch with Sam and Tom Warner who is the chairman for the board of directors for the Red Sox Foundation and they had a very compelling conversation with me about what the opportunity would entail at Boston Red Sox and I couldn’t say no.
Jay: I have four teenagers, then obviously sports fans and Bostonian’s, and athletes are really held up as role models. I have to say, in terms of disability and mental health, there’s been some real great examples. I mean, the one that I’m thinking of right now is Kevin Love in the NBA and coming out and really talking about anxiety and how he deals with it. I think if you’re a younger person and you hear that, “Hey, this is not an embarrassment, this is something to be talked about. This is real. This is like, if you pull a hamstring. This is an issue that we have to deal with in bringing it out of the closet,” I think is really important. The Red Sox are a hugely respectable organization, not just in the New England area, but across the MLB and sports in general.
Jay: We as a foundation have focused on the civil rights and inclusion of people with disabilities in society, which is going to be severely, severely tested during COVID-19 when the medical community has to make some very serious decisions about who gets treatment and who doesn’t. Our position is, a life is a life and everyone should be respected. But we’re working with the Boston Red Sox and Boston Red Sox Foundation on the issue of mental health. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that partnership and what it’s going to entail and what it means to the organization.
Bekah: Let me preface what I’m about to say with a huge thank you to the Ruderman Foundation for just bringing this to the forefront for us, for our community, for the Red Sox, for everyone. Mental health, it should be just synonymous with a muscle that you work out, you stretch, you maintain. It is part and parcel with living a healthy life. I feel like we need to recognize that and be comfortable talking about that as often as we can. To your point, leveraging the celebrity of professional athletes to do that is an incredibly impactful way to break down the barriers that, unfortunately, exist around this conversation of mental health. In partnership with the Ruderman Foundation, what we’re really excited about doing is getting more of our players to speak broadly, to speak openly, about the conversation around mental health and about the importance of mental health, and we’ve already done that.
Bekah: We just hope that we can start to build somewhat of a captain, if you will, for no better term, for this to say, “Can you choose to have this as your purpose and champion this cause in a way that you, more than me, more than Sam Kennedy, more than really anybody else could break down so many barriers that we need to as a country?” One thing that we’re very excited to do also. in addition to leveraging players and players celebrity around this, is to dedicate, and not only one game, but prior to, I believe, almost every day we’re going to be airing a PSA in the Park that talks about mental health and the importance of addressing these issues as a community and as individuals. But getting back to the game day, we’re really, really, really excited about allocating almost every end game resource during an entire day and the entire broadcast to building awareness around mental health.
Bekah: One thing I know that we’re doing at the Red Sox foundation is, we are ensuring that all of the grants that we give out through our impact, are going to be given to nonprofits that are doing groundbreaking and meaningful work in their communities around mental health and achieving mental health outcomes in their communities. We’re going to be running an online viral campaign to have Red Sox Nation select the top organizations that are doing that work. It’s a really, really unique program of ours whereby we leverage our fan base to identify the nonprofits that are doing great work. The nonprofits in each state surrounding Massachusetts that receive the most nominations will be the ones that win. Those organizations will come in to the broadcast into the game that day and be recognized on-field, which is really exciting. In addition to the recognition, obviously will be receiving a grant which will help go towards their work in mental health. I think this is just the first step of many that we hope to do in partnership with the Ruderman Foundation around the idea of lessening the stigma around mental health and growing awareness for mental health as a partnership.
Jay: Well, first of all I want to thank you because, I mean, it’s been an honor to work with the Red Sox. It was a privilege to meet with Sam Kennedy because I think he’s a real leader in the field. I actually have gotten to know Billy Bean who’s an executive at MLB, who is the inclusion officer under the commissioner. We’ve had some real successes working with Billy and he once made a statement to me saying, “If Sam Kennedy gets behind something, then the rest of MLB is going to pay attention.” I think mental health touches every single family, so I think there will be a lot of engagement.
Jay: The videos, which is a little bit of a spoiler and I’ve seen some of them with some of the players, I think will be hugely impactful. Someone who goes to a lot of games and I hope the season will happen this year and we’ll have a baseball season, but I just remember the, “No place for hate, speak up if you hear something about racial discrimination,” those videos that would run in every game and how impactful that message is to an entire fan base. I hope that it will expand beyond Boston to other ballparks across the country. It’s important to take this out, the stigma.
Jay: I mean, we’ve worked with police departments and stigma has a role there, unfortunately, in our society. First responders, and especially now in this crisis, suicide is a real issue. More first responders die by suicide in the line of duty, and it’s time to bring this out of the shadows and really talk about it publicly. The Red Sox Foundation does so many good things. Maybe you want to just talk a moment about the partnership with Mass General and the Run for Home Base, and tell us a little bit about what that’s about and how that helps people.
Bekah: The Home Base program, and really I think of them as an organization because they’ve grown so much beyond just the title of a program. Well, how that was started was back, after our championship in 2007, I hope I’m getting my years right. Now you’re testing my knowledge of Red Sox history. The team went down to the White house, obviously which is a norm, to meet the President. While they’re in the DC area, they visited Walter Reed. Tom Warner, who was our chairman, after visiting Walter Reed and talking with the folks in leadership down there, recognized the need for more support for our veterans.
Bekah: He actually came up with the idea of Home Base, which would be a partnership between MGH, Mass General Hospital, given they’re one of the best hospitals in the world, and leading research around what Home Base does, and I’ll get into that in a moment. But it would be a partnership between the best doctors in research at MGH and the brand and brand power and amplifier or megaphone of the Boston Red Sox. Leveraging those two assets together could really put some meaningful work behind the need of our veterans that provide so much freedom services, just our life here in the United States.
Bekah: That was the impetus for the creation of Home Base. Home Base now, today, 10 years later, well 11 years, it was founded in 2009, is now its own self sufficient organization that runs out of the navy yard in Charlestown that has a mission of curing the invisible wounds of war. How they talk about that is everything from anxiety and depression, to TBI, to posttraumatic stress, any and everything that you would classify as these invisible wounds. Of course, many of our veterans come home with physical wounds that you can see, but it’s the ones that you can’t see that are oftentimes the most dangerous.
Bekah: Home Base exists to provide the support and resources that our veterans need to be healthy because we talked about suicide. Some staggering statistic, that’s like 20 or 22 veterans a day commit suicide. We need to step up and do more in the way of services for our veterans to make sure that they have the support they needed once they leave the battlefield. Home Base sees about 3000 veterans every single year at their facility, their center of excellence in Charlestown, completely free. These services are open to veterans across the country. They fly them in and they have a two-week intensive course where the veteran and their family, and I find that very important to note. Because they recognize that for the veteran to really be well and to make the most of their treatment, their family members, the individuals with whom they live and will thereby be with after they leave the services of Home Base, their family members also need services to know how to speak, to know how to support, to know what triggers the veteran.
Bekah: The veteran and their family comes in for services through this intensive course over two weeks for free. It is provided by clinicians and research based out of MGH, that’s where the partnership goes back to MGH. We at the Boston Red Sox continue to help brand and make aware to veterans the services of Home Base. We also run the largest fundraiser for Home Base every single year, and that’s the, Run to Home Base. The Run to Home Base is a 9K, 5K walk and run that is done at Fenway Park and raises about $3 million every single year for Home Base. We see upwards of 2,500 runners that come in from all across the country to run the race and walk the race at Fenway Park. It’s done the morning of a game, usually in mid-July, and fingers crossed that we actually can host this year’s Run to Home Base.
Bekah: It starts bright and early in the morning we start with a ceremony right inside Fenway Park. Runners then go out and run around the City of Boston and Cambridge and they are able to come in through the backfield and run around the backstop, the outfield in Fenway Park, and then they cross home plate as their last step of the race. They’re greeted by the leadership here at the Red Sox and the Red Sox Foundation and they get a medal. Then there’s a ceremony pre-game, it happens on a game day. There’s a ceremony, pregame, with the runners and the specific cohort of veterans that we recognize every single year that we run the race. The cohort that we’ve recognized the last several years, last year was families of the fallen, the year prior were Vietnam vets, and this year I believe we’re focusing on African American veterans. We try to find a subset of veterans that we recognize every single year, a different cohort.
Bekah: It’s just a beautiful day to bring awareness to the needs of our veterans in this country and to raise critical funds, which all go towards the services that are provided at Home Base every single year. We’re, again, extremely hopeful that we can conduct this year’s Run to Home Base because we do not want to provide any less than what we’ve committed to Home Base for this year’s fundraising.
Jay: I just wanted to thank you for your time. This broadcast is called All Inclusive, which is all about including everyone including people with disabilities. Maybe you can talk about, from your own personal experience with the Red Sox and also in general, the importance of including people with different abilities and how that has changed the total atmosphere of the organization.
Bekah: Given that I fit into a typically excluded category, being a female and being a person of color, and being underrepresented in many walks of life right now not least of which is my professional career at the Red Sox. I, as I mentioned before, am extremely intentional of making sure that we can bring in the most diverse people into our workforce as possible. I truly believe that when you have as many different types of people, any type of category, you are going to be better for it. The broader you have in terms of your perspective… when you look at life, the broader perspective you have when it comes down to making decisions, the better decisions you’re going to have. I, oftentimes, say that I am in a position of authority and a position of power. The worst thing I could ever do is make a decision that is going to impact somebody whose voice I don’t have represented around the table. I really try to, and every decision I make around hiring and partnerships is try to have as many different types of people recognized as possible.
Bekah: I’ll just give you another conversation that I had recently here. This is just a sidebar and you can include this or choose not to include this, but I also coach Dorchester Youth Soccer, I coach my boys’ soccer team, and there has been conversations about inclusion. My children, sidebar, go to an inclusion school, which means that students with extreme disabilities are fully baked into the classroom, which I think is a beautiful, beautiful thing. There are nonverbal students in my kids’ classroom, there are students with a full one-on-one para in my students’ classroom. This idea of kindness and acceptance is at the core of my students’ learning every single day, which I think is so critical for that learning group to have that kind of ethos. Just messaging day in and day out of difference is acceptable and difference is normal and kindness is the expectation.
Bekah: Anyway, I don’t even know how I got there, but I coach Dorchester Youth Soccer and there’s been conversation around inclusion there, around whether it should or should not be an inclusion model, meaning accepting young people with disabilities. I’ve had to have tough conversations to say, “Heck yes, absolutely.” We need to make sure we’re including young people that have disabilities in these opportunities, otherwise they won’t get them. PS, sometimes this is more impactful for the kids that don’t have disabilities as it is for the young people with disabilities. I think there’s, oftentimes, unfortunately a lens where we’re looking at this through the microscope of the person that has the disability and not recognizing that this can be almost more impactful for those around them as it is for the person with. That’s also a lens that I often approach this work with is that too often we think of this in a selfish way when it’s actually mutually beneficial.
Jay: I really appreciate your time, especially during this very trying time that we’re going through as a country and the world. Really, thanks for joining us today. We really look forward to working with you in the coming months.
Bekah: Well, thank you for your partnership. We are so excited about this year one and hope that there’s future years beyond this, and that we can can continue to grow this not only within the Boston Red Sox, but as you said, MLB and with other teams. I think this could be a replicated model throughout the league.
Jay:Thank you. Have a great day.
Bekah: You too. Take care. Bye.
Narrator: All Inclusive is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Our key mission is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can find All Inclusive on Apple podcast, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher. To view the show notes, transcripts, or to learn more, go to rudermanfoundation.org/all inclusive. Have an idea for a podcast, be sure to tweet @JayRuderman.