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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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

Written by Kroc School

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

It's 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 intensifies the feeling.

It’s been four years since then, but the memory of how I felt that day stays with me. It's been a journey from that moment to this one at the University of San Diego where I am pursuing my MA in Peace and Justice at the Kroc School. I have found my time here, studying peace theories and developing skills in peacemaking, feels exactly like where I belong. 

Aaron on the set of SportsCenter at ESPN HQ in Bristol, Connecticut.

Community as a driving force for positive change

From the very start of my time in mediaI have spent my career attempting to create more meaningful dialogue. It was in undergrad, while writing for the University of South Carolina Upstate’s university paper, that I started out as an intern for a local ESPN Radio affiliate. I was a young Black and Latinx kid, originally from Brooklyn, 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 ran around.

Spartanburg, South Carolina 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, I spent one evening in a bar that changed my life.

Late in 2013, after hosting the radio show in a local bar one Friday, I had dinner with a listener, Alan, who I had met for the first time earlier 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 full-time job offer for ESPN and moved to Connecticut. 

Aaron with the Vince Lombardi Trophy
Pellot holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

From my time at ESPN, CBS Sports Network, the Los Angeles Clippers – every 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 stronger community later pushed me to leave my career behind. Community helped me along my 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 now here at the University of San Diego.

Our work as peacebuilders is here and now

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, to 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 worlds of Social innovation, Conflict Management, and Peace and Justice are directly 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. 

Aaron in New York
Taking photos of Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge.

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 a (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 the 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. As I said, 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. 

Looking ahead

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, and may we put into practice the peace and justice theories which we study. We must work to better this university experience, and may this Kroc community understand, from administration to student body, that we learn together and from one another. I mean this in no cliché way. It is our duty as peacemakers and 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.


Kevin Dobyns
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Kroc School

About the Author

Kroc School

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies' mission is to equip and empower innovative changemakers to shape more peaceful and just societies.