By Kim Diggs
At 7:15 a.m. June 25, more than 300 members assembled in South Seas GH for what President Tory Lindley, MA, ATC, called “the largest NATAPAC Breakfast yet.” The breakfast is an annual fundraiser for the NATA Political Action Committee (NATAPAC) to fund the political efforts necessary for the progression of the profession.
This year, the keynote speaker was Ronnie Barnes, ATC, the first president of NATA Research & Education Foundation and a NATA Hall of Famer.
He began his keynote address by explaining that, though many people perceive him to be “erudite” and cosmopolitan, his roots made him who he is; he acknowledged his duality, stating that he can be an authority on opera and fine dining and also be a self-proclaimed country boy from Wilson, North Carolina. He affectionately referred to the area he grew up in as “Tobacco Road” because so many people in the area historically picked tobacco there.
Growing up in the Deep South during the height of segregation, the adversity Barnes faced molded him into who he is today and taught him lessons he shared with the attendees.
“I had to overcome some racial obstacles growing up in the South, and that required really strong self-control,” Barnes said. “In the face of bias … I had to learn how to develop an executive presence. If you look around at all of the leaders of NATA, what you’ll find is an executive presence. And everyone in here seems to be leaders, but I hope all of you find your executive presence.”
Facing racism head on instilled humility, forgiveness and compassion in him, he said, because he quickly realized he would need to interact with people who felt he didn’t deserve to be where he was.
“Someone once told me at a cocktail party, ‘If the South had won the war, we’d be in Richmond tonight,” he said. “I often wondered where that would leave me since Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy.”
It was interactions like these that pushed him to be the best that he could. He stated his aim is to be seen as the best in the profession and that he will “continue to try.”
His drive pushed him to great heights, many times breaking racial barriers; his list of “firsts” and “only’s” was long.
His professional strides were not just about self-actualization or being forced to prove he deserved to be in the spaces he was in; it was about materializing what he felt he deserved – something he wishes more ATs would do.
“I sometimes feel athletic trainers lack self-worth, because in self-worth, you have to know that you deserve the best and I believe athletic trainers deserve the best,” Barnes said. “We should never let anyone treat us like average professionals. You get what you settle for, so I always expect that athletic trainers will surround themselves with professionals who see their self-worth.”
He spoke fondly about his time attending NATA conventions in the 1970s and the early part of his career, such as his time spent in the Great Lakes Athlete Trainers’ Association.
He ended with his hopes for the future of the athletic training profession – the possibilities that are available with continued communication, collaboration, dedication to learning and acknowledgment of the power each AT holds.
“I ask you to never lose sight of how incredible you are and how vital you are to so many patients and our athletes,” he said. “We’re guardian angels to so many people. My soul is enriched by every person I help, and I’m sure you feel the very same way.”