SANDCAST: Falyn Fonoimoana on race, volleyball, and the value of uncomfortable conversation

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Falyn Fonoimoana-SANDCAST
Falyn Fonoimoana runs down a dig/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

A few weeks ago, Falyn Fonoimoana was doing her usual run for a few items at the grocery store. She was roaming up and down the aisles of Lazy Acres, spying a few snacks or treats for her 7-year-old son, Tavoi, when a white woman approached her.

“Hi,” she said, “are you looking for something?”

Fonoimoana said no, just browsing, thanks.

“Are you sure? Do you live here? The protests don’t start until 7.”

Confused and a bit perturbed, Fonoimoana turned to the lady.

“‘Ma’am, I’m not going to the protest. Do you live here?’” Fonoimoana recalled saying on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

“She didn’t say anything. I asked her how long she lived here, and she said 15 years, and I said ‘Ma’am, I’ve lived here for 28 years.’ That just goes to show me that there is so much more work to do in this area.”

Fonoimoana is a self-described mutt in terms of racial and ethic makeup. She has Samoan, Tahitian, White, Black — a menagerie of ethnicities that make her slightly different in appearance from your typical Hermosa Beach resident, of which nearly 87 percent are White.

She knows what it’s like to be different from the rest, in perception, anyway.

If you were to look at her life path and resume, without knowing the color of her skin, you’d never think anything of it. It’s not far off the standard South Bay upraising: Athletic, smart, volleyball star goes to USC, plays professionally overseas, returns to play professionally on the beach.

But there is that increasingly thorny matter of race. And it did, indeed, make Fonoimoana slightly different from her peers at Hermosa View and, in high school, Mira Costa.

“I was very fortunate to be in this area,” said Fonoimoana, who is 28 years old and raised in California’s South Bay her whole life. “It’s something I will never take for granted. I want to raise my kids here. But we do live in this bubble. People like me don’t just walk away all the time. I was the tall black girl that everyone knew. Whether you were four grades up or three grades down, you knew who I was just because I stuck out like that.

“I think I was the only black kid until third grade. After third grade we had a couple people move in, and I think towards sixth or seventh grade we were maybe under 10?

“There’s different levels of oppression, and I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t been oppressed to the level we’re seeing in these videos. I’m very blessed in that way. But that doesn’t take away from where I have been oppressed.”

Fonoimoana acknowledged that she did not have to concern herself with much of what we’re seeing on the news today. She has policemen in her family, and she came to know virtually every cop in the South Bay. They’d honk, smile and wave while she was on her way home from school. They were positively lovely. But it doesn’t change the fact that not everyone has had the same experience. Not everyone has the fortune of being raised in as affluent and safe an area as Hermosa Beach.

Throughout her career, she’s built a decent-sized platform. She figured it was about time to put it to use.

“I’ve been posting so much,” she said. “I never used to click on those stories [on Instagram] with all those little bars, but that’s me now. I want that one person a day to read my post and to say ‘Wow, Falyn, I had no idea’ or ‘Falyn, I just learned something today.’”

She knows, too, that social media can only do so little. That taking real action, having real conversations, taking real steps, is imperative. It’s why she reached out to SANDCAST, to see if there was any way it’s platform — a small one, but a platform nonetheless — could be used to add to the discussion of what’s happening in society. Fonoimoana didn’t even volunteer to be the first choice to come on. Others, like Dain Blanton, Jenny Johnson Jordan, Annett Davis, Brandie Wilkerson, would be excellent voices, she said. But, if she could help, she’d be glad to.

So she did. She came on, and had a conversation — not a one-way dialogue, but a real back and forth, the kind that develops a little compassion and understanding and doesn’t send all parties retreating to their respective corners, gloves raised.

“It’s not going to be a comfortable conversation. It’s not going to be rainbows and butterflies and we’re just drinking a beer and having fun. It’s going to be uncomfortable and it’s always the questions you’re shaky to ask are the ones you need to ask,” she said. “Some people will say ‘I’m going to ask you this question and I mean no disrespect by it, I just want to know.’ What does that tell me right there? You care.”

Fonoimoana cares enough that she’s begun the process of starting her own non-profit. She’s tired of seeing money thrown to various organizations where the donations don’t necessarily go to the causes being touted. She wanted to know exactly where it’s going, so she is doing it herself. She doesn’t know precisely the direction of the non-profit, only that she wants to help with young adults, similar to the way her uncle, Eric Fonoimoana, a gold medalist at the 2000 Olympic Games, did with his Dig 4 Kids Foundation.

“We haven’t figured it out all the way, but we want to make an impact as a family,” Fonoimoana said. “We need more people who are saying ‘I will take this part’ and change. ‘I will take this part’ and change.”

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