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Empowering New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS – December 6th, 2016 – We believe in the power of groups, and know that people can do more together than they can alone. That’s why we have centered our efforts in New Orleans around partnership, as we continue to engage and align a wide range of organizations around sport’s potential for good. By combining local expertise and resources, we are reaching new ground.

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Continuing our support of local collaboration, we held a New Orleans Sport for Good Community Summit with our partners at the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. The summit convened leaders and advocates that are intentionally using youth sport to build a better community. Together, they identified barriers and opportunities for sport to unlock better health, further education and equitable employment for the youth of New Orleans.

Tom Farrey, Executive Director of Aspen’s Sports & Society Program, echoed the Surgeon General of the United States in his opening remarks. He explained that sport can be an “unexpected solution” to many of society’s key issues, ranging from obesity to gun violence. Our work in New Orleans continues to prove that, as we are beginning to demonstrate Sport for Good’s measurable impact on the physical fitness and emotional health of local youth.  Risa Isard, Program Associate for Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program, shared that over 90% of youth sport organizations in New Orleans are committed to emphasizing the health and educational benefits of sports. While this community has clearly embraced sport’s potential for change, barriers still remain: coaches need training, youth need support and parents need awareness.

A panel of native New Orleanians then took the stage to discuss how sport is making a difference, and where youth need more support to stay engaged. As the focus of our impact is young people, we invited youth representatives to share their voices alongside CEO of the Aspen Institute Walter Isaacson and ESPN Host Michael Smith.

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Michael Smith, host of ESPN show His & Hers, shared how playing sports in the streets of New Orleans as a child shaped who he is an an adult. Those experiences helped him to “develop the discipline and leadership” he needed in his professional career. He stressed the importance of all youth having similar experiences, urging them to do “whatever it takes to be able to play with your immediate peers and develop conflict resolution skills.”

Unfortunately, the landscape of sport in New Orleans has changed since Michael Smith’s childhood. Tevin, a coach from Up2Us Sports, painted a more difficult picture. Growing up, Tevin recognized a significant lack of strong male role models in his neighborhood. This inspired him to undergo the training necessary to become a highly qualified youth sport coach. He became certified as a coach by our partner Up2Us Sports in hopes of making a positive difference in kids’ lives. Coach Tevin shared that,

70% of Up2Us coaches from the neighborhoods that we serve in. We are trying to give back, and let [youth] understand that they do not need to become what they see in front of them. We give these children different opportunities in life to change themselves from the environment that they’re living in.

Tevin carries a deep responsibility for the youth that he serves. He is “touched” when his students share their personal problems with them. He explained that it helps him to realize his greater purpose as a mentor. His commitment drives him to go above and beyond his expected duties. As Tevin explained, he will often “take these guys to a gym on Saturday or Sunday, it’s important to have a safe space to enjoy themselves.”

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The dangers of playing in unsafe neighborhoods have similarly challenged Ronjay, a youth participant from Youth Run NOLA. Ronjay voiced concerns that “just recently in my neighborhood someone was killed.” As a result, he has tried to stay indoors and out of trouble. Ronjay credited Youth Run NOLA, a Laureus-funded program that is building a community of healthy leaders through running, for changing his mindset. He explained that Youth Run NOLA “takes me outside and introduces me to people that won’t put me in a bad situation.” He said his running peers have continue to encourage him, keep him engaged, and drive him to do better in all aspects of life.

Building strong social networks is a critical component of another one of our local program partners, ELEVATE. Their practices emphasize a sense of family, as each student supports one another’s academic and athletic success. They incorporate both tutoring and elite basketball training with the goal of sending each participating to college on a scholarship. Kameryn, a youth participant from ELEVATE, explained that they start with homework and “if you don’t finish you don’t get on the court.” Kameryn made the point that having the support of tutors is especially important for some of her peers who don’t have parents they can rely on for homework help.

The discussion helped to inform our panel moderator Walter Isaacson. He declared,

This has moved me and provoked me to think more than any panel in a very long time. I have realized how important all these things are.

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Walter stated that if he could do one thing to help the city of New Orleans, where we grew up, he would continue to multiply these efforts to use youth sport to its full potential. We are equally invested in sport’s greater purpose and will continue to galvanize local support. Thanks again to the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program for their help in organizing this event.

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On December 21, 2016
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