We can’t ignore the fact that young African American males are disproportionately more likely to be involved in a violent crime as either a perpetrator or a victim. Poverty, failing schools, and disruptions in local communities have all been cited as contributing factors, which make our job of helping bolster the lives of young African American boys an incredibly challenging one.
Mr. President, there is a solution. It is sports-based youth development (SBYD). SBYD programs are a cost-effective, safety net that can make the difference between an at-risk young person going to college or ending up incarcerated. SBYD is a field that merges youth development with sports. SBYD programs use the power of sports to attract at-risk youth into safe and constructive activities. But these programs go one step further. SBYD programs use the sports, themselves, to teach kids conflict resolution and life skills that can be adapted to their schools, communities and home environments. That’s why in 2009 I founded Up2Us, a coalition of over 700 youth sports organizations leading a national movement to advance sports as a solution to the critical challenges facing the kids in underserved communities including youth violence.
To achieve SBYD takes training. Every year Up2Us partners with experts in the fields of coaching, positive youth development and health and wellness to create a menu of SBYD trainings. Up2Us conducts National Coach Training Institutes all over the nation. These unique three-day seminars address the fundamentals of quality sport coaching, the components of positive youth development, and the challenges and opportunities of working in an urban environment. The training prepares a group of coaches, often from the same community where they coach, to make a difference in the lives of the youth they serve.
The gains from SBYD programs do not end with keeping young kids out of jail. By providing trained coaches who are intentional about teaching health and pro-social behavior, we can keep approximately 80 percent of kids from becoming obese or overweight. We can also keep 40 percent of the kids in school who would have otherwise dropped out. The cost savings to be gained through SBYD programs is invaluable in terms of the lives saved, not to mention the financial savings for taxpayers.
In conclusion, I believe that SBYD programs provide us with one of the most effective means to boost the lives of African American youth as President Obama has challenged us to do. It’s up to us, as parents, business leaders, celebrities, athletes, clergy and local officials to come together and get involved and embrace the power of sports to create change.
Paul Caccamo is the Executive Director and Founder of Up2Us, and its flagship program Coach Across America. Up2Us is a national non-profit organization based in New York City.