Forget the Milk

Jake Giles Netter for The Players' Tribune
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I have to start with a story about my dad.

I was maybe five or six years old and we were living in New York City. My dad ran out to get some milk, and usually, when you’re in the city, that’s about a five-minute job. Ten minutes, tops. But an hour went by, and he still hadn’t come home. Another hour passed. Then another. And this was the late 90s, so my mom couldn’t just call his cell. All we could do was wait and hope he made it home O.K.

After about five hours, my dad finally walked through the door.

My mom was like, “Where the heck did you go? What did you do? Where were you?” Then she looked at his hands, both empty.

“And where’s the milk?”

My dad grew up in the Soundview Projects in the South Bronx. He and my uncle Alvin were raised by a single mom. They grew up surrounded by gangs, gun violence, drugs — the whole nine. It was the kind of neighborhood — and the kind of life — that was difficult for people to escape.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I ran into my childhood friend from Soundview, someone from the neighborhood.”

And he didn’t mean he saw one of his old buddies and they went to hang out and catch up. He ran into an old neighbor who was homeless, living on the street.

Someone who needed help.

So my dad got him some clothes, took him to his sports club for a shower, and bought him dinner. He spent the whole evening with him, just asking how he could help and listening to his story.

That’s how my dad is. He’s the kind of guy who would do anything to help someone in need, and he’d get so lost in serving others sometimes that he’d forget what he was supposed to be doing in the first place.

The way my mom tells that story, she says she was proud of my dad for doing what he did and she was happy he made it home O.K. But she sent him back out to the store anyway.

“We still needed milk.”

My dad is Black and my mom is Irish-Catholic, and they come from very different backgrounds. But faith and service were always cornerstones in our house. So that wasn’t the first (or last) time that I saw my parents help someone out who was homeless or struggling. It happened a lot.

Growing up, I thought homelessness was a New York thing. But now that I’ve seen a lot of the country through soccer and lived in a few places, I realize that it’s a just-about-everywhere thing. I saw it in D.C. I saw it in Philly when I was with the Union. I saw it in Pittsburgh when I was in the USL. I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve been.

And I see it in Nashville today.

Look, I love Nashville. The culture, the sports, the music, the people — what an incredible city. But it’s crazy to think that we’ve got Broadway, with all the iconic country spots and honky tonks and everybody having a good time….

And then one block over, it’s dark. People are sleeping in alleyways, wondering where their next meal will come from.

I feel like maybe the bright lights and the loud music and all the partying — all reasons that I love Nashville — can easily drown out the real issues.

So, like my parents, I try to pay attention, and I try to help wherever I can.

Jake Giles Netter for The Players' Tribune

It’s a perspective that my parents cultivated in me over time, and it really started when I was six years old, when my dad and his best friend, my uncle Gerald, took me to the projects where they grew up. As a half-Black, half-white kid coming from Westchester County, I was shook — I can’t lie to you. And as we were walking around, my dad and my uncle Gerald knew I was uncomfortable.

They each put one arm around me, and I remember my dad saying, “Hey, don’t worry. You’re safe here.”

My dad’s a storyteller. And, man, he had a lot of stories that day. He showed me where he and my uncle played sports as kids, and where people had been shot. He showed me where they used to live, and he told me about how his mother would have a bunch of neighborhood kids at their house for dinner most nights because their parents were working, or they just didn’t have food on their tables.

And as heartbreaking as it was to see the homelessness crisis in Nashville, it was equally as encouraging to see how many local organizations work to support them.

Taylor Washington

With so much crime, poverty and gang violence, it was a difficult place to grow up. But if someone didn’t have a meal, somebody’s auntie or grandmother would take them in for the night and feed them. It was a tough life, but people took care of each other.

We could all use a little bit more of that spirit in America now, couldn’t we?

After seeing Soundview for myself, over the years that followed, whenever my dad would say, “Boy, you don’t know how good you have it,” I knew exactly what he meant. But I always remembered how people took care of each other in that community, and I always wanted to live in a community like that.

I believe we have that here in Nashville.

As soon as I arrived here in 2018, I knew I wanted to get involved in the community in a meaningful way. And as heartbreaking as it was to see the homelessness crisis in Nashville, it was equally as encouraging to see how many local organizations work to support them.

One of them is the Nashville Rescue Mission. It’s a faith-based community committed to helping the hungry, hurting and homeless. But they do more than just feed people. They take a Christian approach to providing programs that enrich the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional and social aspects of people’s lives.

And the impact they have is incredible.

Jake Giles Netter for The Players' Tribune

I’ve seen it myself. I recently had the privilege of working with the Nashville Rescue Mission to feed the homeless at their headquarters. I was right in there, working the kitchen line — the apron, the hair net, the whole nine. I was in charge of the bread. And when people came through the line and I added a piece of bread on their tray, the look I saw in their eyes … it was like, we weren’t just feeding them. We were allowing them to be seen. Allowing them to be heard. In a world where most people ignore them and step around them on the sidewalk, in that moment, when we put that food on their tray, they’re able to have a human connection that they don’t otherwise experience as often as they should.

They don’t know that I’m a professional soccer player. And honestly, it doesn’t matter who I am, or who they are. When they look me in the eyes and say, “God bless you,” all that matters is that we’re a part of the same community, and we’re there for each other.

To share moments like that with them and let them know that, hey, we do see you, and you do matter, and you’re not alone — it's a pretty special feeling.

As I work alongside so many others to support the homeless in Nashville, it’s good to know that I also have support — from my family, my team, my teammates, and even from a major MLS sponsor in Audi. Through its Goals Drive Progress fund, Audi is contributing $20,000 to help advance the Nashville Rescue Mission’s cause. It will provide over 7,000 meals and more to the men, women and children who are their guests. A humbling gesture, because when you’re trying to make the biggest impact possible, it’s good to know you have support.

Look, I know how “big” this problem can feel. But if you just start with the people who are right in front of you, it can make a world of difference. My mother has a framed picture of a hand holding a bird, and underneath in small letters are the words, “To the world, you might just be one person, but to one person, you might just be their world - anonymous.” So I encourage everyone to get involved in their local communities to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Even if it’s just helping one person you see while you’re out running errands who looks like they could use a hand. To step out of your own life, get lost in helping others and come home tired, humbled, and grateful? It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s an incredible feeling.

Even if it means you forget the milk.

The Audi Goals Drive Progress initiative supports MLS athletes making an impact off the pitch through financial contributions to nonprofit organizations that create sustainable communities, foster equity and inclusion, and enrich the lives of those in need. Through the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund, Audi will be providing $20,000 to the Nashville Rescue Mission in celebration of the work that both the organization and Taylor do for their community.

Stay tuned for more stories on Audi's commitment to supporting MLS athletes and their community initiatives throughout our "Celebrating Impact" content series.