Stealing Home: How a community baseball program is redefining some of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
LaVonté Stewart was coaching a boys’ baseball team in Chicago when the league they played in folded. While he decided where his boys could next play, he arranged for them to practice in Rosenblum Park, on the city’s South Side. That’s what they were doing when something happened that would change the lives of a generation of young people in the most dangerous areas of one of the most violent cities in the United States.
Over a decade later, Lost Boyz is still rooted in a community baseball program run by and for the people of the South Side and the West Side of Chicago.
“Our mission is to decrease violence among youth, improve their social-emotional condition and create financial, economic and academic opportunities for young people,” says Stewart. “Our job is to break down barriers, open doors, protect them from the things that are waiting out here for them. If they get good at baseball, great. If they don’t, so what? The goal is that they’re champions on and off the field.”
As well as baseball, the members of Lost Boyz learn about leadership and business, about the history of their sport and their city. Boys and girls that rarely travel outside of their own community go camping.
LaVonté Stewart describes the problems faced by Chicago as being “rooted in social and economic inequality” that can be mapped along geographical and racial lines. The mostly black South Side and West Side seem to be a world away from the idyllic North Side of the city.
However, speaking to the coaches, young athletes and the founder of Lost Boyz, there is a collective pride in, and love for, their own community, and that is at the heart of this remarkable project. The city they strive for is one where sport helps these young people to overcome violence and inequality. That way, everyone wins.
A Basketball Education: How PeacePlayers Brooklyn are Building Community Leaders as well as Athletes
PeacePlayers was founded 15 years ago by two American brothers from Washington DC who wanted to bridge divides not just within communities but between people. One such initiative was launched after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and sought to ease tensions between police and BIPOC communities by encouraging officers to assist in running basketball camps and other activities in nine cities across the United States. Since then, five permanent programmes have been established across the United States – in addition to partner projects in the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland and Cyprus – as PeacePlayers has gone from strength to strength.
Christopher Jaheem Stuckey lives a few blocks away from one of the most dangerous streets in America.
On the bad days, gang violence erupts, or drug addicts beg for money. This is everyday life for Christopher and the kids who live in Brownsville, a divided neighborhood once known as the murder capital of New York.
On the good days, Christopher plays basketball. And there have been more good days than bad for Christopher lately – thanks to Laureus and PeacePlayers Brooklyn.
“PeacePlayers supports me to be myself. It gives me a voice that I can use to not follow behind others, like a lot of athletes who aren’t playing ball anymore, gang involved,” added Christopher. “PeacePlayers give me a voice so I don’t have to do none of that, and I can still be a young, black athlete.”
Outside of basketball, the project has demonstrated to Christopher that there is a world beyond Brooklyn, Van Dyke and even the NBA. He says Peace Players has given him hope for a brighter future and the chance to shoot for the stars.
“I don’t really want to be a basketball player,” he said. “I want to major in science. PeacePlayers influence me by making me want to continue [in education].”
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