So, You Think Academics Alone Are Enough, ey? The Power of Basketball to Build Ethical Black Young Leaders.
Academics are not enough. Yes, I brazenly said it.
Now, I know this runs counter to conventional wisdom. Yet the fruits of this seemingly insane declaration are revealed in the lives of so many Black boys growing up in American cities near you.
Statistically speaking, Black families tend to live in opportunities [literally] identified by government as opportunity zones; economically underperforming, poor(er) neighborhoods marked with potential by measure of the economic blight that has become then. In cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, Inglewood, Atlanta, and New York, the cost of living has skyrocketed beyond any reasonable, free market-based analysis. Big business and real estate investors love opportunity zones. The consequence of their love, in fact, is the very gentrification that makes it harder and harder for Black (and other marginalized folks) to meaningfully provide for their families.
Nonetheless, the tried-and-true American strategy for success sounds something like this
- “Education is the great equalizer. It allows families born in poverty to climb out and ‘make it'”
- “Solid math and science scores will prepare Black kids for positive class movement – out of poverty.”
- “Education is the way out, you just have to kill the victimhood psychology.”
For racial and class-privileged Americans – folks who don’t have housing nor food security issues; folks who are not targeted by historic systems of discrimination merely because of skin color or toxic tropes about their immigrant status or [so-called] racial backgrounds, education is far more obtainable. Indeed, without competing distractions, like out-of-control inflation, navigating and surviving gentrification, the school-to-prison pipeline, Black youth incarceration, and youth violence, the path seems so very clear.
My point, is the unobstructed pathways to formal education reveal ones undeniable class privilege. Given that Black peoples — as amazing, and resilient, and future-looking as we are — are at or near the bottom of nearly every social and economic metric for well-being,
I reassert my former audacious claim: Academics alone are not enough.
In social and economic realities where black peoples are statistically less likely to be privileged; where Black refugee and immigrant parents often hold remedial grasps of English language, there children need greater social, cultural and economic supports.
Yes, it’s an equity issue.
To the point of Basketball. How do sports fit into this equation?
For minority Americans — and, in particular, minority immigrants — community is vital to survival. East African Community Services’ Basketball Clinics are team-sports that bring together East African youth in a safe, empowering, and humanity-nurturing environment; places where being East African (which is to say Black) are normal; spaces where they see healthy, talented, amazing, and productive members of American Society that look just like them; places where they can become hyper-fit, make new friends, all while playing Basketball, which many of our boys absolutely love.
In this way, EACS’ Basketball Clinics provide what traditional, dominant culture spaces (for formal education) cannot:
Safe, fun, empowering spaces created by, with and for East African youth.
Basketball Clinics provide space where East African Coaches can mentor young and impressionable East African youth. This is huge and very important. Our Basketball Coaches are loved and very well respected by our youth. EACS regularly received glowing reports (qualitative surveys) rom Basketball Clinic participants and their parents that evidence the power of Basketball as community-rooted-and-driven, safe, healing, and empowering space for Black immigrant boys.
Yes, we unapologetically require Basketball Clinic participants to perform well academically. However, we back that requirement up with mentorship and academic supports; a wraparound strategy that includes basketball, physical fitness and friendship to empower Black immigrant youth to imagine and long-for incredible, accomplished and productive futures. In this way, Basketball Clinics are a kind of healthy, empowering community. They are fun spaces where East African boys are mentored, loved-on, and supported by East African men who care very deeply about the future of our families.
Lastly, our children are far more sensitive than we give them credit. They can feel when we care for them; when we listen to their needs and desires; if we are willing to meet them precisely where they are – without nasty judgments. Culturally-rooted places and spaces like EACS’ Basketball Clinics do far more socio-emotional and character building that meets the eye. We have found that they create a positive space that nurtures the best in our youth, while holding them accountable… accountable to dream big for their lives and follow-up with consistent action.
So, no, academics alone are not enough. Basketball and culturally-rooted team sports infused with mentorship, do hidden work that prepare Black youth for strong futures. In a country plagued with increasing levels of xenophobia, anti-African- and anti-Black hate, culturally-rooted team sports provide safe places for young Black boys to grow into phenomenal Black men of substance and achievement.
Let’s continue the conversation,
Abdigani Idan, B.S.,
P.S., Abdigani is a trained software engineer and legendary Somali Basketball Coach. He is also a husband and the proud papa of two amazing twins.