Summer has just started and things are already hectic and dangerous in my neighborhood. I’ve been home from school for about two weeks, and there’s already been two shootings this week alone. Luckily, I’ve been at PYB camp this week, but maybe if I hadn’t decided to attend the week of basketball camp, I might have been the one laying bloody on the concrete. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. Basketball doesn’t just occupy kids, it saves lives. Basketball allows young people to become part of something bigger than themselves, by being part of a team instead of part of a gang. Coaches are given the responsibility to resemble father and mother figures to kids that may be without one. Basketball teaches morals, responsibility, and instills work ethic and accountability. I can’t imagine the peace and comfort that my mother and grandmother find when they know that their boy is in a gym instead of on the block. However, I don’t find that same peace and comfort as I often worry for the safety of my friends.

A few years back, when we were about 13 or 14, many of my friends and I who had been traveling life’s journey together reached a fork in the road. I decided to take the road less traveled, but many of them followed the path of their older brothers and uncles. They decided that if a summer league wasn’t paying, they simply weren’t playing. The sad thing is, they were actually nice. Seriously, most of them were dunking before high school and were making good amounts of money on the playground in games of H-O-R-S-E or pickup. The guy that “makes it out” is rarely, and I mean rarely, the most talented athlete. The one that makes it usually get a break or someone in their life gives them some guidance and shows them another way to go.

Although I don’t plan to be an NBA player, I feel a connection to players like Lebron and Damian Lillard and Melo, just to name a few. These are guys that were surrounded by not only the “hood” as a physical setting, but the hood mentality as well, which is indeed more powerful. So, I wonder, we were raised together, but what separates us? I think it’s the belief in one’s dream. I am motivated by a dream, and I am blessed to have been brought up by special people who nurtured my dreams and made me believe that even though they were far-fetched, they were still attainable nonetheless. Over time, as things have changed, I still cling to my dream, I have a will to facilitate it. I learned it from Kobe. It’s the Mamba Mentality. I try to apply it to every aspect of my life. It is the belief that “No matter the odds, no matter who or what is in my way, come Hell or high water, I must reach my goal, this must get done.” I don’t just feel that passion on the court, but it translates to the classroom and the rest of my life. Even as a young black man, a being that is criminalized and targeted by the law and the media, the two biggest influencers in society, I still have a belief that I can win at this game called life. But I didn’t write this to credit myself as some resilient survivor, because I am someone who has greatly benefited from the hard work of parents who went to great lengths to give me opportunities that my friends have not been afforded. Unfortunately, I notice that this is indeed what separates us, the malnourishment of one’s dream.

On the court, you are the master of your own destiny. It’s important to us young kids of color in urban communities, as it seems that we have absolutely no control over our destiny. The court is a place of refuge from all the mess on the outside. One can just come out and hoop. It is the ultimate meritocracy. You win because you are simply better. Even when all hope is depleted by broken homes, school systems, biased laws, and the feeling that your best will never be good enough, you still have basketball.

 

Written by: Michael Clark, Rising 11th Grader at The George School

  • 2-year PYB Collegiate Summer Camp Series Student-athlete. (2017 – CSCS Weeks 1 & 2 / 2018 – CSCS Week 1)