Unfortunately, your cities have some of the highest violence rates in the nation. But I have a solution for you, and it's very cost cost-effective. It's a soccer ball… or tennis ball…or basketball…or hockey puck… Numerous studies have shown that kids who play sports are much less likely to engage in gangs and violent behavior. One study found that urban communities with lots of youth activities experienced 18-times less crime than communities with fewer activities. This is a message that we need to pay attention to. In the past decade, the number of young people joining gangs in United States has increased. The most recent national survey shows that 775,000 children in America report being gang members.
Why does a child join a gang? Because they get from it a sense of belonging, teamwork, leadership and discipline---the very same qualities that they can get from being on the basketball or track team. The problem is the basketball team, the track team, the baseball team, the ”sports teams” in their communities have all disappeared. Budget cuts have devastated youth sports, particularly in urban communities.
Mayors, if you want to fight gangs and make our cities safer places to live in, why not call on the youth sports community to be your greatest allies? Up2Us has run youth sports conferences in more than a dozen cities, and it's amazing to learn how many obstacles urban youth sports programs must go through in order to keep their programs functioning on a daily basis. Yet, without any political support or citywide coordination, they strive to do so because they know they are critical lifelines to the kids they serve. These youth sports leaders are community leaders, and their programs are community assets. Ask for their help to develop a comprehensive strategy to reach more kids; to open more fields, courts, and facilities; to provide more coaches trained in conflict resolution; and to give kids more alternatives to gangs.
When I was in Chicago I met a 12-year-old boy who told me that most of his siblings were already in jail. He also told me that the previous year—at age 11—he was recruited by the neighborhood gang. He learned to carry a gun.
“Are you still in the gang?” I asked.
He looked at me funny and said “no”.
“Why?” I said.
He tied his cleats, jumped up, and said, “because now I have soccer practice.”
Mayors, this one 12 year-old child, and former gang member, may have just given you your entire crime prevention strategy.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director