We Exist Because We Must
Years ago a high school teacher buried 7 of his students in a single school year. Each of those students were shot and killed. One was shot in front of her mother as she walked away from that teacher’s classroom. Frustrated with safety conditions, that teacher became a police officer and thought he could start arresting criminals in this community and eventually clean up the streets. Boy was he wrong! You see the community he chose was Watts. History alone should have told the guy, you can’t arrest your way out of social problems. In 1965 riots broke out in Watts because Black people were frustrated with insufficient public resources and police mistreatment. They took to the streets and burned everything in sight. Markets, medical facilities, schools, everything, all burned. In 1992, it happened again for the same reasons. This time the civil unrest ended up being the most costly of the 20thcentury.
Now it’s 2018 and Watts hasn’t changed much, but that guy is still a police officer and more invested in the community than ever before. In the last 2 weeks that guy has hospitalized 9 kids for mental evaluations. Recently I watch him get a pre-made salad from the only grocery chain in a 15-mile radius around Watts. When he opened the salad, the lettuce was black. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t really watch him, I am him.
After nearly 20 years of serving communities that include my own relatives, I’ve realized that the easiest way to affect sustainable change in a community is by empowering the youth. Hence, the STEP Foundation was born. We leverage our professional resources to provide opportunities for kids that would not ordinarily receive them. With more than 60,000 known gang members in Los Angeles County, it’s critical that we provide youth with positive situations to better their lives. Our access to athletes, entertainers, educators, and other professionals, has created a network that is benefiting lives in more ways than we expected. We use sports to engage youth and eventually their families. Once we have them engaged we work on developing the whole child, mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially. This inevitably spills over into each child’s household and eventually the entire community. A prime example of this is all of our kids showing improvement in their grades and all of them having a family member present throughout each basketball practice. We teach kids that everything worth having in life is worth earning the Hard Way, which is the name of our team, “Hard Way”.
A STEP STORY
Let me tell you a quick story about a kid named Tristan. He’s one of twelve siblings and lives with his single mother. He, his mother, and sister rent a room in shared living facility in Watts. After watching him quit a basketball game last year because he wasn’t getting the ball, I told him to let me show him something. Since basketball put me through college I figured I’d show him how to shoot a jump shot. After becoming his coach months later, I found out that he had mostly failing grades and foot problems that lead to pain when he walked. Once we got him the medical treatment he needed and changed his mindset about learning, the success was evident. Now I’m proud to brag about him getting straight A’s on his following report card. After practice one day he said, “I don’t want to be the only one on the Hard Way that doesn’t go to a good school.” He’s only 12. Ironically, the next day we received a text saying that Tristan had been accepted to a private school with a full scholarship. He was also been invited to China to play basketball in April of 2019. Just like all of the kids in our programs, Tristan is going to make it.