by Matt Jardin |
Scrolling through social media on any given day can often be an exercise in patience. In the wake of protests sweeping the nation in response to the death of George Floyd, the social media landscape has become particularly charged with difficult dialogue. But Lonnie Ridgeway, sociology alumnus and Volunteers of America (VOA) Alaska coalition director for public health and prevention, wanted to add some positivity to the newsfeeds.
In early June, Ridgeway released a video sharing his experience and emphasizing the importance of the ongoing conversations addressing systemic racism. With more than 20,000 views at the time of this writing, it’s safe to say the message struck a chord.
“I was scrolling through Facebook and didn’t see anything that I connected with,” said Ridgeway. “I saw a lot of trash. I saw a lot of people from different points of view arguing and lack of unity. So I wanted to put something out there that if I were to see, that I would be encouraged by and challenged by.”
One of Ridgeway’s key actionable items — the urge to develop empathy and broaden your worldview by surrounding yourself with people whose viewpoints and experiences differ from your own — is succinctly put in four words: persistent proximity produces perspective.
Looking back on his own time on the Seawolf basketball team, Ridgeway mentions sports and its ability to get a group of people working toward the same goal as a perfect vehicle for facilitating persistent proximity.
“As an athlete I had the opportunity to meet people from Australia and France, different parts of Africa, all over Europe and the United States,” said Ridgeway. “I learned so much by interacting with people, learning their cultures and where they’re from. I believe that engaging with sports allows you to connect and see people differently. They’re not as distant anymore. There’s a piece of yourself that you give away in teamwork and you build something together.”
Ridgeway’s on-camera turn isn’t unprecedented. He describes video as the ideal format for coalescing his strong writing skills and passion for conversation. It’s an approach that has proven successful for him in the past, having used video before to discuss another topic close to his heart: his faith.
“Faith and church have always been a solid rock in my life,” said Ridgeway. “Everybody is looking for something and I feel like, especially right now, people are walking around off balance and on edge and I 100% believe that one of the things that keeps us balanced is faith.”
Since graduating in 2018, Ridgeway has consistently practiced what he preached, starting as a counselor at McLaughlin Youth Center up to his current role at VOA Alaska where he oversees all prevention efforts for adolescent substance abuse and misuse in Anchorage.
According to Ridgeway, the trajectory of his life is as straightforward as “walking through the next open door that was available.” Some doors were open as a result of his time attending UAA or playing for the Seawolves, but other doors were open because of opportunities extended to him from other people, which is something he plans to reciprocate.
“Sometimes this sounds like the right answer to say at the right time, but I really, absolutely, genuinely love people,” said Ridgeway. “I’ve always had that love and interest for people and conversations. More specifically, I would have been classified as an at-risk youth. If it weren’t for people who stepped in and gave me some time when I wasn’t looking for it, I wouldn’t be in the same place or have the same mindset as I have now. So I really wanted to pay that back.”
Looking ahead at the next door, Ridgeway is considering entering another sphere that is infamous for its lack of positivity. Fortunately, Ridgeway has no shortage of his own to bring.
“I think we all have a duty to be better and do things around us to make everybody better. I’m of the belief that we’re created with a unique gift and that gift isn’t supposed to lie dormant. We need to give it out and when we do, it’s a small piece in a bigger picture that makes the world a better place,” said Ridgeway. “I don’t like politics too much but I really like people. As I get older I see there’s a need for a place for people who actually love people to be in politics, not the other way around. I was born and raised in Anchorage, this is my community, I love this community, and I want to see the community continue to progress.”
Written by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement