By Alan Page, Special for NFL Evolution
Some challenges are physical, like taking on a double team while trying to tackle a 240-pound running back who's barreling toward the line of scrimmage with a full head of steam -- something I often had to do during my 15-year career with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears. But often, the most difficult challenges we face are the emotional and psychological ones we deal with internally. These challenges are more difficult to identify and address.
The goal of our new children's book, The Invisible You, is to nurture a conversation celebrating the things that make people different and unique and the common things we share. That is a conversation that challenged me as a child and at times still today.
The Invisible You was co-authored by my daughter Kamie Page, a second-grade teacher who also co-wrote our first book, Alan and His Perfectly Pointy Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky, and illustrated by Minneapolis artist David Geister. It focuses on a young boy, Howard, and a hard first day at a new school in a new neighborhood.
At first, Howard feels nervous and self-conscious as he walks to his new school with his mother. He can't help but notice that his new classmates playing in the schoolyard don't look like him. Some of the children have lighter or darker skin. Some have different hair colors. Others have freckles and one has beads in her hair.
As Howard enters the classroom, it becomes clear his nervousness is the result of never having been exposed to an environment that openly discusses the differences that make each person unique.
Rather than focusing on these external differences, his teacher asks Howard to tell his classmates about The Invisible You, the part of ourselves that is impossible for others to get to know without asking questions.
As Howard tries to build up the courage to speak, a number of his classmates speak first, sharing fun facts about themselves and encouraging Howard to do the same. Soon, Howard is talking about his love of mysteries and playing soccer after school. As the story unfolds you can see the connections being made between Howard and his new classmates.
The Invisible You is a simple, yet important concept, delivered in a story that's easy for all children to understand -- and adults, too. The Invisible You is what makes you, you. It's who you are deep down, not the color of your skin or where you come from. It is your passions, your achievements, your dreams.
Writing The Invisible You with Kamie was a rewarding and unique experience. Lessons are often learned from stories. All too often we see people who are different from ourselves as inferior. Getting to know "The Invisible You" in those around us helps us understand that while we are all different, we share much in common. Our hope is that the book will make an impact and promote dialogue. We envision teachers talking with students and parents and their children.
On a personal level, my ambition, even beyond finding success on the gridiron, has always been to have a positive effect on people's lives through education and service. I believe that constantly striving to be comfortable with both my visible and "invisible self" allows me to pursue my dreams. Achieving my educational dreams gave me the opportunity to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court as an associate justice, a position that I find intensely challenging and fulfilling.
In 1988, my wife Diane and I founded the Page Education Foundation -- one of our proudest accomplishments. The Foundation assists Minnesota students of colors by providing financial assistance for post-secondary education.
These students, we call them "Page Scholars," and in turn, spend at least 50 hours each year working with schoolchildren as real-life models for success. Page Scholars send the strong clear message by both word and deed, that education is a tool that will help anyone achieve their dreams. To date, there have been more than 5,500 "Page Scholars." I'm proud to say the Foundation has awarded more than $10 million in scholarship grants to deserving students throughout Minnesota.
All proceeds from sales of The Invisible You will benefit the Page Education Foundation and support its goal of helping young men and women of color achieve their dreams by providing access to higher education.
It is the hope of my daughter Kamie and I that readers will enjoy Howard's story and use it as a way to recognize, validate, accept and embrace differences, not only in others, but ourselves as well.