Over the past few weeks, the tragedy of Trayvon Martin has gained attention for many reasons. At Coaching For Change, one of the conversations we have been having is about image, stereotypes and perceptions of our youth.
In the case of Trayvon Martin, one of the reasons George Zimmerman pursued Trayvon Martin was because he saw a young, Black male wearing a hooded sweatshirt (a “hoodie”) and perceived him to be a threat (as reported by his multiple phone calls to 911). But, why did he not simply see Trayvon Martin for what he was — a young Black male who was just walking from one place to another?
At a follow up panel discussion of Black college males, many of the students revealed that they, too, had been pre-judged in their lives, simply for being Black. One student shared that his bags were searched upon leaving a clothing store after the security alarm went off; only to find out that his white friend had actually stolen an item but was left un-searched. Another student shared that he had been physically assaulted by police officers because they believed he was involved in a shooting — despite the fact that eyewitnesses stated he was not the suspect nor did he even closely resemble the suspect. Another student shared that his guidance counselor in high school told him that he should plan on attending community college because a 4-year school would be “too hard for him”; that same student is now an honors Biology student at a competitive 4-year college who is in the process of applying to medical school.
Dr. Claude Steele, a social psychologist and Provost at Columbia University, coined the term “stereotype threat” after examining why the national college dropout rate for Black students is 20-25 percent higher than that for whites even when those students were just as well-prepared for college, had no socioeconomic disadvantages and managed to get excellent SAT scores (which are risk factors we identify for students dropping out of high school). And among those Black students who did finish college, their grade-point averages were consistently lower than white students. Why is that? Dr. Steele identified that this lowered achievement can be due to “stereotype threat”, or the threat of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype or the fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype. Essentially, young black and brown students — even with strong educational and economic backgrounds — perform lower when they experience anxiety about the stereotype.
In an effort to not reinforce the stereotype, they reinforce the stereotype.
So, in order for our young people to achieve to their potential, we must create the conditions by which they believe that we believe in them.
What do we see when we look at young, Black males? Do we see smart, talented, engaged leaders? Do we see future doctors, CEO’s, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and teachers? If not, why not? If we do not see them as capable of these roles, how will they learn to see themselves?
While Coaching For Change offers opportunities and programs, what we achieve is providing a space where young people are seen as leaders. We take them seriously, and we expect them to believe in their abilities, the contributions they make to our community, and the responsibility they have towards one another. Yes, they arrive in hoodies. Yes, their skin colors are all on the spectrum of black, brown, and tan. They come from different family structures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and beliefs about their abilities. And, when they walk in the program each day, they are treated as leaders and as creators of change. They are teachers. They are entrepreneurs.
They are Game Changers.
Teach to reach.
While we have a lot of fun playing basketball, coaching, and organizing fun activities at Coaching For Change, our teens also know that we have high expectations for them. We expect them to give 110% in school and after school. And, through the support of our program, their families, role models and mentors, our Game Changers always put in “above average” effort.
We are committed to education. Coaching For Change, Inc. is designed to expand learning experiences beyond traditional classrooms. C4C offers an outlet that connects classroom experiences with lessons learned through sports; We believe this collaboration strengthens our students’ desires to graduate from high school and creates more options for success. To achieve success, C4C believes that we must address the drop-out crisis that is sending half the young men of color into the world without a high school degree. To do this, we need to collaborate, come together, and commit to providing all students with a meaningful education. Students need more ways to pursue knowledge and interests beyond their schools’ curricula, and Coaching For Change provides that opportunity.
We address workforce needs. In a community deeply affected by poverty, crime, drug use and social equity issues, the teenagers in our program learn and apply skills that can revitalize the the Brockton community. In 2011, the City of Brockton’s Education Working Group identified a need for a workforce development programs to improve the skill of entry-level workers and to improve the overall employment rate. With a high school drop out rate of 33%, the community’s ability to create and support vibrant economic growth is negatively impacted when we do not have access to business, education, and innovation. Without high school completion, teens lack access to pathways to help them develop skills to enter the workforce.
We approach skill development differently. With the improvement in access to technology, some businesses are increasing productivity and profits while reducing the number of employees. The paradox is that many jobs still remain vacant despite a large pool of unemployed workers. Businesses are looking for skilled workers who can also fill generalist roles. Therefore, it is becoming clear that one-size fit all system of preparation does not fit the needs of the changing employment market. We must prepare our young people to gain a diverse range of skills while also demonstrating an ability to specialize. According to Boston Indicators, “The loss of high-paid, low-skilled manufacturing jobs has widened income inequality and contributed to youth unemployment and racial/ethnic disparities in health and education.”
We make a difference. At Coaching For Change, our students learn how to think critically, perform professionally, and demonstrate competency in leadership. We address the need to graduate from high school and to continue to college. We connect the needs of the community with the contributions of our teens. We think collaboratively — not just competitively — and partner with existing organizations that are making a difference in the community.
Sports teaches us to compete. Coaching For Change gives us the skills to be competitive.
Coaching For Change, Inc. believes it is time to approach the educational process differently. One of the ways we do this is by taking our students out of their local environment and exposing them to different types of communities, sports, opportunities, and leadership scenarios. We teach kids about how human environments shape and influence actions and interactions. And they get to see, first hand, the ways in which environments and communities are both similar and different to their own.
This past Saturday, the Game Changers had the opportunity to work with Community Rowing, Inc. at the “Let’s Row Boston, Youth Indoor Rowing Event”. For many of them, it was their first time at CRI and rowing on the water. The Game Changers met other kids from the community and also saw the impact that rowing has on the lives of others. By taking our students to the Let’s Row event, we helped them apply the lessons about leadership, supportive risk-taking, professionalism and sports, and put it all into action. At Coaching For Change, we are all about making our classroom lessons come to life!
One of the powerful conversations we’ve been having with our teens is the connection between planning and doing. Sometimes, even when we do everything in our plan, life still turns out unexpectedly. Like many other kids, our Game Changers believe if they work hard, get good grades, graduate high school, and graduate college they will have a successful life. As we talked, I asked them questions that challenged the notion of “if I work hard, it’ll just happen.” Our students began to understand that we need to prepare for our futures by preparing for the complexities of life. We need to learn to adapt to — and challenge — obstacles in our way. By working through different scenarios, our Game Changers are learning to overcome hurdles, develop important leadership skills, and practice the lessons they have learned.
Coaching For Change recognizes adolescence as a powerful time period for young people to develop skills that teach them to take action. We provide youth the unique ability to organize in order to achieve a goal. We turn theory into practice, think critically about our lives and our contributions, and develop a better understanding of those both different and similar to ourselves. Coaching For Change provides a safe environment for young people to experiment with their definitions of leadership, with their desire to be positive community members, and seek ways to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.
Together, we are changing the game.
Coaching For Change, Inc. is passionate about identifying and creating new ways to increase physical activity for school age children. The focus is on encouraging young people to be more physically active and make healthier choices.
In an answer to the First Lady Michelle Obama Let’s Move initiative, Coaching For Change promotes an active community that provides fun and affordable sports and fitness programs.
According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Health, a staggering one-third of the schoolchildren in MA are overweight or obese by the time they reach first grade. In addition, the Let’s Move website states that 8-18 year old adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media and only one-third of high school student get the recommended levels of physical activity.
With increasing pressure on schools to perform on standardized tests, classroom overcrowding, and budget cuts on activities that could increase physical activity, students are spending less time accessing information and opportunities for better health. Coaching For Change asks, “How can we create environments that are fun and meaningful?”
In the cities of Boston and Brockton, 43% and 40% of school aged children, respectively, are identified as overweight or obese. In the past 7 months, I have worked with over 700+ kids between the 1-12th grade to increase physical activity in Boston and Brockton. I have done this through my work with the Community Rowing, Inc. “Let’s Row Boston ” which implements indoor rowing in Boston Public middle schools. In Brockton, I have trained high school students to coach the elementary and middle school students at the Boys & Girls Club of Brockton.
What are some ways to increase access to physical activity for young people?
- Reduce “screen” time (computers, phones, etc) and identify local after school programs that focus on physical activity. Some of these programs offer financial scholarships that are need sensitive.
- Find 10-15 minutes a day as a family to do something physical. This could be going outside for a walk or simply finding ways to create friendly competitions indoors!
- Get to know other kids in the neighborhood and find ways to create games together.
Coaching For Change, Inc. provides opportunities for fun, sport, and leadership to kids of all ages. We get kids moving but also focus on enjoyment, team work, and appreciation for physical fitness. Through our camps, clinics, after school programs and AAU teams, we provide a diverse range of opportunities to get fit!
Engaging students in learning so they are prepared for further training and gainful employment should be the goal of any dropout prevention initiative. MBAE supports recommendations that build on evidence of what works – such as early warning systems that identify students at risk and interventions for these students that keep them on track to graduation. According to Civic Enterprise’s Silent Epidemic, nearly 70% of dropouts were not motivated to work hard and two-thirds would have worked harder if more was demanded of them. Over 80% said their chances of staying in school would have increased if classes were more interesting and provided opportunities for real-world learning. Making it illegal for youth under age 18 to dropout of school will not address this reality. MBAE supports action that will.