Q: What is the difference between a turkey and a man imitating a turkey?
A: Only a couple of minutes: a turkey never breaks character.
I am in the Tokyo Narita airport on a nine hour layover. I should be counting sheep. But alas, I am pondering the turkey. And in my jet-lagged state, I wonder what the implications are for the turkeys, and for the rest of us.
Study the turkey, look at his movements, watch him go. A turkey doesn't try to look like a turkey. He doesn't study or practice in front of a mirror. He (assuming our turkey is a he?!) won't call his turkey buddies over and say, "Fellas! Watch my turkey impersonation. Look at the way I move my head! Watch how I walk -- It's all so turkey-like!"
You see, the turkey acts like a turkey because he is a turkey -- to quote one of our leading philosophers, Forest Gump: "Stupid is as stupid does." Turkeys are easy to read. You don't have to be a turkey discern if a turkey is threatened or calm, angry or intimidated. Turkeys wear their hearts on their feathery sleeves.
Much of the natural world behaves in the same way. A horse is born with the ability to walk. A butterfly needs no teacher to unwrap her cocoon. An acorn naturally becomes a towering tree in the right soil. But in many ways human beings are the exception to the rule. A gentleman becomes a gentleman only after years of effort and education, trial and error. The scientist, the civil engineer, the farmer, the mother, the basketball player -- all require years of learning, years of becoming. In the right environment we begin to become more responsible, more considerate, more reliable. Yes, a turkey is a turkey by definition. But we are all in the process of becoming human, becoming ourselves. And we need help along the way.
Imagine yourself homeless at 17. You're not sure where your next meal is coming from. You slept in the canyon last night. You have no driver's license, no job, no self-worth, and no prospects. You've never met your dad and your mom has been abusive ever since her new boyfriend moved in. The only easy way to find a roof over your head never feels right the morning after. You did not choose a life on the street -- it was simply a matter of survival. Hope feels so far away.
This is nonfiction. These are facts. There are thousands of stories just like this one within San Diego alone. My friend Kim Goodeve-Green knows teenage homelessness first hand. She knows exactly what these kids are going through: at the age of 13, she was homeless herself. Kim runs the StandUp For Kids chapter in Oceanside with an overwhelming passion. To hear her talk about her struggles is incredibly moving. Her undeniable love for the kids coming for an evening meal in Oceanside is even more inspiring.
Kim Goodeve-Green is a teacher. A teacher without a classroom or books. She is teaching these kids of their own self-worth, training them in the curriculum of what it means to be a human being. Guiding, coaching, loving. Showing them a way out of the canyons and off the streets. The StandUp kids are hungry for more than just something to eat -- they're looking for something true, something reliable. They see through the imitation, they can smell the phonies. These kids are looking for love in action, community in motion: true humanity -- not just talk. For those who are looking to rise above their situation, StandUp For Kids is a lifeline of hope. The work is hard: recovering from abuse and years on the street is a difficult fight. But Kim is an incredible teacher. She's lived the life of a homeless teen and made it to the other side. We all learn by imitation and Kim is an incredible model. She is showing them how valuable they are. She is teaching them how to become fully human.
Think back to your adolescent years -- those treacherous, torturous, embarrassing years. The years spent wandering through the teenage wasteland where becoming human feels almost impossible. Even in a supportive home, these awkward years are a challenge for all of us. These are the times when we need a little extra help and direction -- times when we resemble turkeys much more than we would like.
Now, imagine spending those same difficult years scraping by on the street. Imagine trying to realize your full potential while homeless at 17. It feels overwhelming -- nearly impossible. It takes an incredible fighter to rise above the lonely despair of adolescent hopelessness and begin to dream a bigger dream. The StandUp kids are just that: fighters. Warriors battling depression, battling hopelessness; they are fighting to see beyond the present pain towards a brighter future.
Seven years ago, my friends and decided that we had to do something to help these kids, to recognize their struggle and champion their cause. I remember it well. We were on a long flight home from Australia, trading San Diego memories back and forth. We were anxious to get back home, back to the music and surfing communities that had kept us out of trouble when we were young. We were blessed with a community of friends that truly cared about each other. And yet, not everyone is so fortunate. Our conversation turned to talk about the kids who are struggling to find their identity in the teenage wasteland of Southern California. But what about the homeless kids? How could we raise funds and awareness for kids that need it the most? How could we give back to the surfing and music families that have supported us through the years? We began to dream of ways to bring all of this together. And that's when the idea came to us: combine surfing with music to raise money for the community.
Later that year, we held the first ever Switchfoot Bro-Am. It was a blend of everything that I love about San Diego: community, surfing, and rock and roll. Everything about the event came together truly organically. We enlisted two of our high school friends to help organize the day, borrowed some tents from the local church, and called our old Surf Contest buddies help us judge the surf contest. We phoned up our surfing hero/friend Tom Curren to be on our team and play a few songs later that night at the local theater. We asked our friends who worked in the industry to enter a team into the contest. Taylor donated a couple guitars. We rented out the local theater and talked to the city council about using the local beach. And viola: the Switchfoot Bro-Am was born!
The first year we raised funds for Care House, a great organization dedicated to serving homeless and at risk teens in the area. We took the kids surfing, taught them how to play guitar and had an amazing day. It was a ton of work, but we knew that we had stumbled on something special. As our sound man Ryan says, "It's the hardest you'll ever work, but also the most rewarding day of the year." I completely agree. As we packed up that night, we started to think about how we could do it better.
Over the course of the past six years, we've had the privilege of working with three amazing organizations: Care House, Casa de Amparo and StandUp For Kids. All three of these fine nonprofits serve the homeless and at-risk youth in the San Diego area. This is our third year partnering with StandUp; we're so proud of the work they do. I've had the privilege of hanging out with some of the Stand Up kids at the Oceanside campus. My favorite moments up there have been centered around song. I've come to see firsthand that music is the universal language all around the world. You pull out a guitar and the walls come down. Smiles come out. Bon Jovi and Prince cover tunes start to show up and all the differences begin to melt away. It's the same smile I see when someone catches a wave for the first time -- that unencumbered exuberance. That's the feeling we hope to give to everyone who comes to the Bro-Am -- especially the StandUp kids. So, we teach them how to play the guitar and how to surf. We want to give them a unique experience that reminds them of their importance -- an amazing day of celebration.
Everything about the Bro-Am is a bit different than any other event I've ever been a part of. "More Bro than Pro" has been the motto form the start. Even the surfing event has a unique twist. I'm pretty sure it's only event in the world where surfers are forced to go switchfoot. What's switchfoot, you ask? For the non-surfers out there, imagine throwing with your weaker hand, the hand you don't normally throw with. For most of us, it's tricky, awkward, and a little bit laughable. It's the same for most surfers going switch. The switchfoot element keeps the surf contest from getting too competitive and keeps the focus on the kids. It makes us all laugh at our weaknesses. In the same lighthearted spirit, we have a surf jousting event complete with colorful Nerf-ish spears and helmets. It's another playful attempt to have a few laughs and raise some more money for the kids. As far as we can tell, it's the only contest like it in the world.
Yes, it's true: the Bro-Am is my favorite day of the year. It's a day to celebrate these incredible kids, these fighters. It's a chance to teach them how to surf, how to play guitar. It's a day for the whole community to come together with one voice and tell these incredible kids: "You are important. You are worthwhile. You are beautiful." The Bro Am celebrates the past and the present, while investing in the future.
The goal for the event? Sure, it raises money for a worthy cause, but we all know that money isn't everything. For me, the Bro-Am has a higher goal than simply the financial element. The Switchfoot Bro-Am is a celebration: bringing a community together with a song and a surfboard. Every year the Bro-Am reminds me that that we need each other, that our stories intersect. That each of us are slowly becoming human, learning how to love and laugh. Learning how to surf and play the guitar. In a tiny corner of the world called Moonlight Beach the human story is still unfolding.
For me, the Bro-Am is a celebration: a commemoration of our awkward, beautiful life together. Every one of us a story to tell, a song to sing. And sometimes an inanimate object like a guitar or a harmonica can bring a human soul to life. Some times it takes a surfboard or a guitar to give us perspective. Some times we need a little help jumping into the celebration. Try putting a different foot forward- So what if you look like a turkey? We all need to learn to laugh at ourselves, to embrace one another, to celebrate our differences.
We all need second chances, third chances, 77th chances. We need help becoming human. We get by with a little help from our friends, from our community. We're all coming from different places, different perspectives, contrasting opinions, a rainbow of pigments, and varying levels of financial stability (if there is such a thing). But we have one thing in common: all of us turkeys need help. We are learning how to become human.