Kids are kids. No matter where they are, where they're from, or what they look like. They just want to feel important. Loved. And to know that they matter.
When Rob met me and my very pregnant friend, Stacie, at the gate of the youth detention center, I didn't know what to expect. First, he led us to an office. The adults smiled and said, "Hello." But the kid who happened to be in there jumped up and hugged Rob.
"You been practicing your shots?" Rob asked. The kid looked up at Rob like he was skyscraper tall.
"I got this," he said with a grin.
Rob rubbed his knuckles on the little guy's head. The kid laughed. Like any other kid would laugh when playing with a dad or an uncle. With someone he trusted.
"These are my friends, Suzanne, and Stacie," Rob said.
The boy unlatched his arm from Rob's waist and shook our hands.
"Miss Stacie, Miss Suzanne, it's nice to meet you," he said. His brown skin blushed pink.
"How the hell did this adorable kid get locked up?" I wondered.
As we walked to the gym, face after face lit up. They crowded around Rob.
"Rob! Rob! Rob!" Boy after boy called.
Some tall, some short, some skinny, some chubby. Brown, black, white. These kids could have been in any school gym in any town. But they were in "youth detention" - which felt like a polite name for "prison."
Rob called the boys into a huddle.
"My dear friends, Suzanne and Stacie are here. I want you to be on your best behavior and show them what good sportsmanship looks like," he said.
All the boys nodded.
One of them disappeared and came back a minute later dragging a chair. He put it next to Stacie.
"This is for you," he said smiling at her.
She sat down, relieved, and rested a hand on her baby belly.
"What's your name?" She asked.
"Bobby," he replied.
"All right, Bobby, I'm going to cheer for you!" She said. And she did. She cheered through every game, "Go Bobby!"
Every chance he got, he looked back to see if she was still watching.
I don't know what I expected, but I left the detention center amazed that those kids were just kids. They were polite, adorable, and surprisingly good natured considering they were imprisoned. They just wanted someone to care about them.
Affirmative Athletics does that. Rob does that. He shows kids that they're important. That they matter. That they have skills. That they can work together and accomplish goals. He teaches them that hard work and practice will get them somewhere.
All of that translates into confidence. Confidence allows for change and growth.
Kids need that. The world needs that.
In the US sports is arguably the largest cultural institution. It is beloved and participated by millions. It has been a connection point that has engendered life long friendships and opportunities for people to look past societal differences. The nature of competition is to bring the best out of oneself and ones opponent, creating an opportunity to have true respect through the promotion of good sportsmanship. There is no better conduit to making a true impact with young people who had life experiences that have led them to be in need of healing and to enter society as healthy adults prepared to contribute than Afformative Athletics. I am a lifelong sports fan and have worked with the youth that are in need. I've played and served as an official for the AA Super Bowl and it was a moment I will never forget. It's 2017 and we all have to do better. Affirmative Athletics does just that!