In A World Of Hurt, This Is Our Commitment To You

Posted on November 16th, 2016 by

I woke up last week with a start in the middle of the night and could not sleep again.

What I have heard from campers and staff in the past week has shaken me.  Please read this all.  There is not a call to blame, but an ask for help.  From each one of you.

snip20161116_3I have received the calls and emails from staff and campers expressing fear of what their future looks like because they are a person of color, a Muslim, an LGBTQ person, a female, and they have had hateful rhetoric – and in some cases, acts –  aimed directly at them.

For those of you who are excited about the election results, I know you to be kind and compassionate people from my time getting to know you through my 35 years at TLC.  You have a voice like no others, because yours is the voice of the majority in all three branches of government now.  Please use that voice to stand up against speech and actions that hurt our campers and staff. This country needs your voice now more than ever.  You have played tennis here at camp beside people of different religions, races, sexual orientations.  You have laughed together until you’ve cried and sung goofy camp songs together.  And we have all found out our similarities are much more striking than our differences.  Please spread this experience to those you know who may still be afraid of our outward differences.  We all hold biases that we are not proud of (I know I do), regardless of political affiliation, but we can rise above them together.  If we are brave.

For those of you who feel deeply concerned by the election results or fear for your safety, please know you are not alone.

When voices of power in this country speak the language of hatred towards Latinos or blacks or Hmong or Native Americans, we will speak of beauty, and of our retreat campers, half of whom are people of color, are full of laughter and integrity, and work tirelessly, many desperately trying to catch up to the same American dream most of us never think twice about being able to achieve.

When voices of power speak the language of fear of Muslims, we will speak of love, and our camper in her hijab whose smile drove out all fear, whose love brought us together, and who spoke compellingly of the insults and venom she faces each day being an American Muslim, and who still stands unbowed by the forces against her.

snip20161116_2When voices of power speak a language that silences women through words, assaults, and demeaning acts, we will speak of courage, and the girl campers who rose up against me at our first retreat camp this fall in an exercise where I said the class could not tell the story of their mothers to the group, only stories of their fathers.  When a girl in the group challenged me and asked why, I said “Because I said so.  I am leading this class, I am male, and I have the power.”  The girls said, “You do not.  We want to tell our mothers’ stories, too.”  And they took over the class and told their stories.  The boys did not join in.  Afterwards, I asked them “Why?”  They said “We thought you would get mad.”  I said, “The girls spoke up knowing the same consequences might await them as you feared awaited you.  Unless we have all of us speaking up, this will not work.”  Where are the boys?

When voices of power speak of their fear of the LGBTQ community, we will speak of endurance, and about our staff members and campers who are gay and have endured years of persecution for being who they are.  We will not let them endure that alone.  We have come too far for any of us to stand alone.  We will demonstrate that the complexity and mystery of love has room for us all.

When anyone – be it the President of the United States or a child in school who has not yet learned the unifying power of inclusion – attacks, ridicules, or speaks words of hurt to our staff or campers for their religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, or creed, we will not remain silent.  We will stand up and speak out.

United we stand at TLC.  Regardless of political affiliation, we do not just tolerate others’ differences, nor do we just accept others’ differences. We embrace others’ differences.

Because “they” are us.  At Tennis & Life Camps, we will never forget this.  This is our commitment to you.

How Can I Contribute?



  1. Mary (Mollie) Loftus says:

    I wish to thank my dear friend Betsy for including me on Neal’s Blog. The one thing that Betsy and I have always had in common although her gentile Southern heritage and my blunt Irish heritage have sometimes put us at odds, is our open acceptance of all ethnicity and the right of all to have their viewpoints expressed even when we were at odds.

    I would like to share an experience I had at this past Thanksgiving dinner at my daughter’s home in Princeton, New Jersey where the guests at the table included 3 Australians, 1 British, 1 Chinese, 1 Russian, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Eastern Indian (all here in the US as Naturalized Citizens or with Green cards) and 6 Americans born in the USA of various ethnic descent: American Indian, Chinese, French, German, Irish, Norwegian, Polish. Two of these people are in a LBGT marriage. As is apparent, there were multiple political opinions within this group of people at Thanksgiving dinner and in the past this group would share their ideas an opinions, this year because of the divisiveness of the recent election my daughter hosting the dinner, with teas in her eyes, requested that political opinions be omitted from dinner conversations, all graciously agreed. Not present at this dinner, was my adopted African American Son who is one of the most highly educated and successful people in my life. What I wish to acknowledge here is: this Thanksgiving table of guests IS AMERICA! and THE BEST OF AMERICA! The new political ideas of excluding the type of people a this table is WRONG and will diminish the potential future success of the United States of America.

    One of the best things about living in Minnesota is the strong Scandinavian heritage of social beliefs, include all and the that the community is stronger when we accept and take care of each other, I do not wish this culture to change due to a devise political campaign.

    I am saddened and fearful of the demeanor and ideas of OUR new president who viciously attached the personality and character (noting that his political ideas were fair game) of the first African American US President but now demands ALL Americans accept his personality and his ideas without question because he WON the Electoral Vote. I do not believe that our new president is a particularly religious man but his statement that the USA should be only Judeo/Christian in character has one problem with his vicious and divisive rhetoric the Judeo/Christian common belief: “Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You”

    Thank you Neal for allowing me this forum.

    In the Spirit of Respect For All Viewpoints,
    Mollie Loftus

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Mollie. I agree, your experience IS America. Or what it can be. What has also become apparent to us at TLC is how fragile this is. Because what “can” be could just as easily be the fanning of fear of others that leads to hatred and divisiveness if we are not vigilant and take care. My experience of TLC people is like your experience around the Thanksgiving table. People of vastly different backgrounds who discover that we have common ground and can embrace our differences and be a voice to others who are fearful and turn their fear into oppression.
      That’s why we call on all TLCers, regardless of political persuasion, to speak about their experience here at camp so our leaders – of any party – cannot get away with language and action that threatens what we stand for as a country, a true melting pot of diverse backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientations, and genders.

      I do believe united we stand. And, in my opinion, it starts with sharing our personal stories, like you have. Thank you.

  2. Karen Sissel says:

    Thank you for sharing, Neal. It isn’t about party affiliation…it’s about being decent human beings to each other. #letloveserve

  3. Carrie Chang says:

    Neal – wonderfully written and clearly from the heart. The world needs more leaders who think like this and can reach across mindsets and ideologies to connect us to one another. Politics has nothing to do with how we treat one another, and we cannot let our supposed “leaders” from either “side” divide us. Stay true to standing up for your values of caring, inclusion, empathy, and yes, the 3 crowns (which if everyone followed our world might look a lot different). And I completely agree, those of us with access, voices, and privilege have a responsibility to stand up for those who may feel they do not have the same. Together we will thrive! Thank you for your courage to share your point of view.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, Carrie. Hope to see you again next summer. I loved our conversation this summer!

  4. Carolyn O'Grady says:

    Well said. I may borrow some of your eloquence. Thank you.

  5. Sarah Morris says:

    Neal, your tireless work with young people at TLC, building on Steve and Barb’s work of so many years, gives us all great reason to hope for the future. To the Three Crowns!

  6. John Mora says:

    Sometimes we just don’t know what is truly good or truly bad… in the long run. Many of feel that what has happened is truly bad, but what if it caused more people to finally value their rights and vote next election, or finally speak up against sexual assault, bigotry, and acts of hatred? What if it motivates the next truly great leader to run for office, and lead our country to true greatness? And – I know this is a huge stretch – what if ascending to the presidency actually makes Trump a much better man than he has shown himself to be through his words and action? Anything can happen. And I believe everything happens for a reason. So I choose to believe that some good must come from what we perceive to be something so bad.

  7. John Mora says:

    Ever since last Wednesday morning, I’ve kept asking myself only one question over and over again… When the world has gone mad, what do you do? Out of curiosity, I googled it. Oddly enough, besides what you’ve written here, Neil, I found a pretty decent answer…

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      I like this article a lot, John. It focuses on accepting the things we cannot change and changing the things we can. 🙂 I will take this article with me and remember I can do the little things. I am hopeful that this election will get people talking with each other again so we get to actually hear. There was more than race and gender going on. However, back to my point that some say I was just picking on one person or group, the blog post isn’t about one figure or group, but on our response to any speech or action from anywhere – left, right, or center – that demeans, devalues, or destroys others. I hope as I teach my child, as the article suggests is one of the little things we can do, I teach her to #1. Respect others and #2. Stand up and be counted when others devalue individuals or groups in their language and action.

  8. Penny Greer says:

    Thank you, Neal. In my view, we all must continue our commitment to a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic world quietly yet firmly. Providing reassurance, offering our love and acceptance, speaking out and advocating strongly as the need arises. Thank you for all you have enabled through TLC.

  9. Elly says:

    As a Canadian my family and friends are still reeling in horror with respect to the election results.

    I thank you Neal for your words of wisdom, courage and strength.

    I can only hope that in the days and months to come that we are able to come together to a place of respect and compassion for all of mankind. Love is love… is love.. is love!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Hi Elly, I agree with your desire to come to a place of respect and compassion for all. We have so far to go. That means, to me, that I have to do everything in my power not to demonize others, but start dialogue. This blog was meant not to blame one group, but challenge all groups, and to advocate that when we see an injustice, we speak out, regardless of our persuasion. Can we sit down across the table and ask another person their story? One respondent today is doing just that and finding common ground. I want to do the same. Not at the expense of condoning hurtful actions or words I must speak out against, but to understand where they come from, and also to understand the biases I hold that keep me from having this dialogue.

  10. Chuck Lofy says:


    This is your greatest song.



    • Neal Hagberg says:

      I needed you for that today, Chuck. Thank you. You, Steve Wilkinson, and Dennis Johnson have been the constant mentors in my life that give me courage.

  11. gretchen Koehler says:

    even if it means speaking up to the new president, his cabinet and others in govt. offices. Silence is NOT an option well said Neal

  12. Sharon Bultje says:

    Thank you! I am reminded of a song we sang as a teenager (I am now 70)……….WE ARE ONE IN THE SPIRIT, WE ARE ONE IN THE LORD AND WE PRAY THAT ALL UNITY WILL ONE DAY BE RESTORED. I am also the proud (white) grandmother of Mason Bultje who is part of your tennis troupe. Love him to pieces.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Sharon, Mason is as fine of a human being as I know. And I know he has suffered because of being a black American. He is speaking out with compassion to change this world for the better. He is a role model to me.

  13. Marie Boyd says:

    Just one question. Would you have written this if your candidate had won?

    Thought so.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Hi Marie, I would write this to anyone who does not speak up when others are being hurt. It’s not a matter of political party, I firmly believe this. Many people from both parties spoke up when language and actions were used to identify, lump together, and hurt others because of race, religion, or sexual orientation. When we do not speak up as human beings, our silence is as loud as our words. I have spoken up when Democrats, Republicans, or anyone else has used hurtful language that demeans. My friends on both sides of the aisle have spoken up. I think we all have that responsibility. I have seen the damage not doing so has caused people I love.

    • Steve Pardoe says:

      For ‘just one question’, here’s one answer:

      First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
      Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
      –Pastor Martin Niemöller

      Certainly, I would never expect Neal, or anyone else I have respect for, to support a demagogue, so there would have been no need to speak out. Right? But since a demagogue is in fact poised to occupy the White House, Neal (and millions of others – H. did win the popular vote, you know) spoke up. The point of your question eludes me.

      • Neal Hagberg says:

        I love this saying, Steve. Thank you. My understanding of the question Marie asked was “Is this blog politically motivated”? In my response to Marie, I would hope the answer is no, though I won’t be disingenuous and think we are from the same political persuasion. If anyone from any side of the aisle made comments that hurt like this or caused hatred to rise, I call on people to speak out. I have called on both sides since the election to not demonize the opposition, but to state the cause, work for the cause, but recognize the humanity in all, including those you consider “your opponent”. I want to reemphasize the humanity and dignity of those I know at TLC whose political beliefs differ from mine greatly, but who speak out against hateful language and act. If anyone does not speak out, I don’t care what race, religion, creed, sexuality or political party they are, we will speak up. We have an opportunity to be united on this as a country. I am commenting on the specific hate language that has emboldened people to act out in anger and fear towards people I – and all of us – know and love.

      • Amy Steinhauser says:

        Steve Pardoe that quote has been on my mind all week, along with this from the Holocaust Museum in DC: “Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” Neal, your call for constructive dialogue from both sides hits the nail on the head. I for one plan to Let Love Serve.

      • Neal Hagberg says:

        Thank you, Amy. Beautifully said.

  14. Mark Rekow says:

    Very well spoken Neal. Thank you. We ALL need to defend personal freedoms and individual rights. Silence is not an option.

  15. Tina Hartley says:

    Neal – THANK YOU.

  16. Nick Lott says:

    You are right on Neal. I am hopeful that people will react to your blog in a way that says bigotry and condescending actions will not be tolerated. It’s hard for me to stand behind an administration that wants us to stand as one in lieu of the rhetoric used in the last election.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      But we have the opportunity – all of us – to turn this around and stand as one. I’ve seen it happen at TLC over and over, even among people of vastly different political beliefs. It’s why I hope what we do at TLC can be a model for others coming together…