Finding Community and Building Peace: Sports, Politics and My Journey to the Kroc School

(This post can be found in its entirety at the University of San Diego’s Kroc School Blog)

Late 2016, I’m in Bristol, Connecticut, on the campus of ESPN. I’m sitting at work and contemplating whether the work I am doing is meaningless. Donald Trump has won the Presidency, which only intensified the feeling. It’s been four years since that moment, but the memory of how I felt that day stays with me. It’s been a journey from that moment, to the University of San Diego where I pursue my MA in Peace and Justice from the Kroc School. I have found my time here, studying peace theories, and developing skills in peacemaking feels exactly like where I belong.

I have spent my career attempting to create more meaningful dialogue, from the very start of my time in media. It was in undergrad while writing for the University of South Carolina Upstate’s university paper, I started out as an intern for a local ESPN Radio affiliate. I was a young Black and Latinx kid, originally from Brooklyn, now in the South, arguing why SEC football wasn’t the pedestal of the sports world, and trying to sell radio time in a town where the klan still runs around. Spartanburg wasn’t ever going to be permanent, but it was formational. As my time in South Carolina came to an end (2013), so did my first real understanding that we are nothing without community. With no job in sight, hundreds of applications filled out, and my mother offering me a return home, it was an afternoon in a bar that changed my life. Late 2013, hosting the radio show in a local bar, on a Friday, I had dinner with a listener, Alan, after meeting for the first time that day. It was a light conversation, and after a few beers, Alan said to me, “I think I have some contacts in Connecticut who work at ESPN. I can’t promise anything, but I would love to send your resume.” Fast forward two months and two days before graduation, I accepted a job offer for ESPN and moved to Connecticut.

From my time at ESPN, CBS Sports Network, the Los Angeles Clippers, or any other job I’ve been able to accept, community has been essential. This concept of community granted me an opportunity to have a career. This same longing for a stronger community rightfully pushed me to leave my career behind. Community has held me along this journey, as I drove across the country, with everything I owned packed in my Volkswagen Passat. It was community which held me, as I slept on an air mattress for a year, struggling in Long Beach, living with two pastors and their two children who became my family. Community is why I am here at the University of San Diego.

This work, within peace and justice, can be exhausting. We are forced to consistently question the efficacy of the work we are doing, and on a larger scale, ask the philosophical questions of whether any of the work we do matters. This work does matter and is essential to how we participate both as peacemakers, and community members. The latter is what we must remember, especially now. This work is right here and now. We do not work in the “traditional” world of academia, strictly preparing for the work that comes after we graduate. The work is right here, and right now. The worlds of Social innovation, Conflict Management, and Peace and Justice, are all right here in front of us. Here within the U.S. and at the southern border, here within this beautiful San Diego community, and although sometimes forgotten, right here at the University of San Diego. Our work is here, and is together.

We are living through one of the most consequential and divisive [rightfully so] elections of our lifetime. While the last four years have been contentious, dangerous, and deadly for many in this country, the work does not stop because Donald Trump will no longer be President. The work does not stop because of a Biden administration. It simply changes, and only slightly. Seventy million people voted for the continuity of an [more] oppressive system, and if we do not come to continue to rectify the injustices of the systems we are forced to participate in, we will fail in achieving the real progress we hope to make. More literally, if we dismiss the ideas we reject, without understanding the systems which have developed such intolerant ideologies, the 2022 midterms will feel much like 2014, with some as “shocked” as they were in 2016. This work, and commitment to justice and equality, is one many of you are choosing to commit to for the rest of your lives. Many of us do not have that option and/or privilege of standing on the sidelines. The work is right here and now. For many of us, the sky has been falling since our ancestors were brought here, or when these oppressive systems swallowed those who immigrated here. For many of us, our resiliency and fortitude is a means of survival, and not simply a reaction to one administration. A push towards justice, for many of us, is the push for our livelihood.

As we, as a community, continue to grow, working to understand the needs, identities, and wants of the communities we participate in and with, may we remember that it is here at USD where this work must be done. May we work to create better dialogue, more peaceful environments, and spaces to understand how we are forced to be complicit in injustice. May we understand how much our voices here are needed in pushing this university forward. Let us avoid these feelings of being conflict-averse, but may we put into practice the theories which we study. We must work to better this university experience, and may this Kroc community understand, from administration to student body, we learn together and from one another. I mean this in no cliché way. It is our duty, as peacemakers, changemakers, to continually question the systems we participate in. Let our understanding of these theories be put into practice NOW. This faculty, staff, and administration must learn from US, just as uniquely as we do from them. May BIPOC voices be lifted, and may they be hired to bring perspectives that are needed within this university. May we understand that the intersectionality which we study, is part of our growth here and today at USD. May we push to continue for this to be understood BY the university. We must continue to wonder how we can continue to create an equal, just, and diverse learning space for those who attend. We are studying to become peacemakers to go out into the world, but our participation in the world is here and now. We are nothing without our community. May our community, this Torero community, look diverse not only in thought, but in actuality as well.

In community,

Aaron J. Pellot

Interested in learning more about the Kroc School’s Master’s Programs? Learn more here.

Aaron Pellot is a second-year MA in Peace and Justice candidate (’22) at USD, with a B.A. in Political Science from the University of South Carolina Upstate. While at USC Upstate, Aaron spent time as a writer for the university paper, and as a radio show host for ESPN Spartanburg, the ESPN affiliate in the region. After obtaining his undergrad degree, Aaron went on to work in the field of communications, working for ESPN (Bristol, CT), CBS Sports (New York, New York), Los Angeles Clippers (Los Angeles, CA), iHeartRadio (Los Angeles, CA), and the San Diego Seals (San Diego, CA). Intersectionality has always been the center of his work, from his written work, to his time in television and as a radio/podcast host — This Week: Disassembled. Now studying the theories of peace and justice, Aaron looks to use the skills he’s developing to create more intercommunity dialogue, and assist in communities tell their respective stories.

New York to California. I used to work in television. I write about sports, politics, and culture.