• Soccer without Borders

Q&A With Christian Ruiz: DEI at SWB

Christian Ruiz is a Senior Program Coordinator at Soccer Without Borders Oakland, serving as the lead implementer for SWB at Castlemont and Rudsdale High Schools. Christian founded the Castlemont program in 2016 while he was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley. Bilingual in English and Spanish and certified in Restorative Practices, Christian is a coach, mentor, and role model to program participants, the majority of whom are Unaccompanied Minor Youth.


Christian was a leader in Soccer Without Borders’ response to the events of Summer 2020 that led to our statement expressing solidarity with those fighting for racial justice and our video supporting Black Lives Matter. He also served as a co-leader of our staff racial justice conversation series and is a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Can you share some background on the impetus for starting the racial justice conversation series at SWB?


Our world was in the midst of figuring out what quarantining meant and how to battle the pandemic. At the same time, the United States was at a decisive moment in its history as people took to the streets to protest police brutality. Though its origin was in the U.S., the Black Lives Matter movement also took hold in many countries.

As an organization learning its place in the conversation around social issues, Soccer Without Borders decided to elevate support for Black Lives Matter in unison with the people that we serve and the staff who chooses social justice and reform. We decided that working at SWB meant putting in the effort to learn and discern the realities and complexities of our racist origins as a country and its current state of systematic oppression that affects our participants and our communities.


Why did you feel it was important to have these conversations at SWB?


We always talk about serving ourselves in order to be able to better serve our participants. For years we have been focusing on empowering our participants with confidence and agency to confront the adversity and social issues that affect them. It made sense to lead by example. If we ask our coaches to lead difficult conversations with participants, we should also be comfortable and confident having those conversations among staff. We thought about what we’d want to tell our participants about our commitment to bettering ourselves. We thought about what would make them proud to have us as coaches. We believe having coaches who are trying to understand other peoples’ experiences allows us to have a broader approach to creating spaces to heal and grow.


As a coach working with newcomer youth how do you address racial injustice and discrimination they may face in the U.S.?


We can only come to understand the larger systemic issues that affect so many people in this country by starting with the local context of families, friends, and school settings. We facilitate conversations among youth without imposing our beliefs and focus on asking questions that help them get to the root of their beliefs. There are multiple ways to bring these conversations up in a safe and healthy way such as in art therapy groups or during practice sessions. Informal time with participants who are more strongly affected by different topics also allows some participants to open up in a way that other spaces don’t allow them to. Having coaches that they can confide in for their successes as well as their troubles creates an organic vein of communication where participants aren’t judged for their feelings or thoughts.


As a member of the DEI committee can you talk about SWB’s commitment taking meaningful action on statements we make as an organization?


We have continued establishing the DEI lens as a standard approach in every aspect of our work at SWB. Personally, I co-facilitated an anti-racist conversation series at Castlemont with teachers to focus on the specific issues and the context of our school. We have also established Employee Resource Groups (ERG) whose membership is welcome to submit recommendations as they see fit based on their intersectionality. Any employee can submit a proposal for an ERG and the first one established was the LGBTQ ERG. We are also able to more proactively use our voice for other current events and struggles affecting our youth. SWB goes beyond our immediate participants and also tries to look at the overall communities we serve and be a voice, ally, and advocate for them.


What does it mean to you to have SWB formally adopt Equity as a core value of the

organization?


It is important to me because it is how I view our work. I always focus on the participant, staff, site or program that needs the most attention. Some people have a false narrative built up that to support some means sacrificing the well being of others. In reality, our needs fluctuate and being able to regularly assess those needs and adjust is what allows us to create longevity and sustainability in our work. This will empower us to have equity as a starting point and approach rather than aimlessly striving for it.


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