For many of us, our very first experience socializing with peers other than our siblings started on the playground. From the playground as a youth, to a Program Manager at PeacePlayers and in celebration of International Day of Sport for Peace and Development, I’d like to share my journey on my love for sports and how sport has become a platform to address some of our pressing social issues.
Three years ago, before I joined PeacePlayers, an organization that uses sport to unite divided communities. I joined the Up2Us Sports Coach Across America program where I served as the Lead Coach and coordinator at PowerPlay, NYC. PowerPlay is a girls-focused organization that uses sports to teach life skills and create leadership and mentorship opportunities for young girls from underserved communities.
While I enjoyed playing basketball, I never imagined myself becoming a coach; I felt it was a calling that I wasn’t quite equipped for. During my time with Coach Across America (now Up2Us Coach), I learned how sports can play a role beyond the scoreboard. This was new to me but familiar at the same time! There were times when it would have been helpful if my coaches showed more empathy or showed an interest in my life outside of winning. For the first time, I explored childhood trauma and how coaches can intentionally use sports to help young people heal and develop skills to take charge of their lives and fulfill their full potential. I soaked in all of this new content and in 2015, when the opportunity came to join PeacePlayers - Northern Ireland as an International Fellow, I was stoked to learn more about how sports was being actively used internationally in Northern Ireland, Middle East, Cyprus, and South Africa to unite and empower young people from historically divided communities.
During my fellowship in Northern Ireland, I worked in the South Belfast community and also led PeacePlayers’ expansion in the Mid Ulster region. Despite great strides since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended the 40-year conflict known as “The Troubles,” sectarianism, discrimination, mistrust on both sides are still major challenges in Northern Ireland.The divide in Northern Ireland is so pervasive that education, housing, and sports are politicized. For example, only 7% of schools are integrated; in the sport space, rugby is played mostly by Protestants and traditional Gaelic sports are played by Catholics.
In the South Belfast community where I worked, I was particularly interested in the growing population of immigrants and refugees and how they are being absorbed into a society that has been relatively racially homogenous for a long time. PeacePlayers model is unique in that it goes beyond playing basketball and challenging perceptions but also creating opportunities (ex. International exchanges, youth-informed programs) for young people to develop as leaders and join a network of youth advocates across the globe actively using sports to challenge issues in their communities.
At the end of my fellowship last fall, I joined PeacePlayers full-time as a Program Manager, with focus on certain US cities. PeacePlayers’ expansion in U.S. cities was made possible by our partnership with where our mission is to change perceptions and develop youth as leaders through the power of sport. This partnership seemed like an incredible opportunity to make a real difference. PeacePlayers has shown youth across the world that if you can play together you can learn to live together, and on this International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, I am so excited to now be working in communities in the United States to continue that message. I’m a firm believer that when young people come together around a cause, they bring passion and authenticity necessary to drive change. The March For Our Lives and Black Lives Matter movements both attest to the power of youth to drive social change. I’m excited to be using sport as a medium to bridge divides in our communities here in the U.S. and even more thrilled that basketball is the platform for young people to feel empowered to become advocates for change. I would encourage you to learn more about PeacePlayers at our website at www.peaceplayers.org and to find a way to celebrate the power of sport by encouraging more coaches to place higher value on beyond the outcome of the scoreboard.
Now that you’ve learned about my experience. What’s your story? How do you use #BasketballForGood in your community?