“The impact of seeing positive black men.” Those prophetic words kept ringing in my consciousness as I drove home after completing my second basketball clinic in 3 days. Over a 3-day span I had the pleasure of interacting with 200 inner city youths, teaching, speaking, laughing and having an overall great experience. A common theme ran as an undercurrent while teaching the participants the fundamentals of the game: the importance of them seeing black men in roles that counteracts the media’s constant bombardment of negative portrayal and stereotypes.

The awareness of this initiative is nothing new, but its value can’t be underestimated. As a basketball coach I was not surprised at the turnout of young people who came to the clinics. The role of sports in the black community is sacred, and too many of our future leaders and change agents think sports or entertainment are the only keys to unlock the doors of opportunities.

Yet there is something mystical that takes place when you are in the midst of these great minds. I can’t really explain it in words, but there is a spirit coupled with a light of internal optimism and trust that shines within. This is the stage of their lives when they are the most vulnerable, receptive and influenced.

I really treasure the girls and young women who attend the clinics. There will never be a shortage of boys at sports clinics, especially basketball, but the importance of having female participation can’t be overlooked. Our young sisters have to overcome a lot to participate in sports. Many of them want to play but don’t have the opportunities the boys have, they have to avoid the pitfalls of drugs, alcohol and pregnancy. Often times they help raise younger siblings, can’t find enough girlfriends interested in sports, are not encouraged to play because it will make them too masculine, etc.

Quite a few of these young woman, have no meaningful relationships with their fathers or have been hurt by men they trusted, including family members, not just the playa’s, gangstas or thugs. So when I interact with them on the court I make a concerted effort to engage them with the balance of a disciplinarian to motivate them to work harder and not expect anyone to give them preferential treatment because of their gender. And I blend that approach with the gentle touch and words of encouragement that comes from a father or uncle, (not ready to be a grandfather yet). This is an opportune time to show them that there are men in the community who love them unconditionally and not trying to “Get at Em”

The longer I’m in the athletics business the greater my appreciation grows and the realization of how blessed I am to be in a position to effectively change the lives of so many, even if it’s just for a day! I tip my hat to the hundreds of black men who are making a difference in the community with no fanfare or positive media coverage. They are taking back the community one child at a time. When black men step up and give back, the effects on young people are simply Magical!

Tony Price is a collegiate athletics administrator and head basketball coach with over 20 years experience as an athlete and instructor. His unique perspective on sports and society is exclusive to Urban Thought Collective.

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