Every year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation honors the innovative and collaborative efforts of individuals, organizations, and teams that are making their communities healthier through sport. This year's RWJF Sports Award winners were the Giants Community Fund, The Moyer Foundation, and PeacePlayers International. Richard Besser, RWJF president and CEO, said "This year’s winners inspire packed stadiums, provide comfort to grieving children and form international friendships. Each effort demonstrates the passion for community that will make our country stronger and can inspire all of us to do more for our neighbors.”
The Giants Community Fund took home the award for professional sports team, community relations department, or foundation. The Fund partners with the San Francisco Giants by using baseball to encourage underserved youth and their families to live healthy, productive lives. Through the Junior Giants program, the Giants Community Fund supports 25,000 children through education and violence prevention initiatives.
Bringing home the individual athlete or professional coach's foundation award was The Moyer Foundation which provides comfort, hope, and healing to children and families affected by grief and addiction. The Moyer Foundation camps - Camp Erin and Camp Mariposa - use physical activity and sport to teach grieving children self-esteem and trust. With 50 locations across the US and Canada, The Moyer Foundation has touched the lives of more than 34,000 children.
Lastly, in the organization that is an influential leader and model for others category, RWJF recognized PeacePlayers International. PPI uses basketball as a vehicle to unite divided communities across the globe. Coaches utilize innovative peace building and leadership development curriculum to bridge the divides in destructive, volatile situations around the world. Since its inception in 2001, PPI has impacted more than 75,000 youth and trained over 2,000 coaches from 15 countries. According to Brendan Tuohey, Executive Director, "For more than 15 years PeacePlayers has actively been using the power of basketball to unify communities worldwide and create healthy, safe environments for young people." PPI believes that if children can learn to play peacefully, they can learn to live peacefully, as well.
You may have never heard the name Khali Sweeney, but in Detroit, MI, he is building a legacy and saving lives. Founder of Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, Sweeney has been able to break the cycle of poverty and violence that many in his hometown are born into. Every day after school, he buses in 100 children to train them in the ring. His kids are learning accountability, sportsmanship, and resiliency through the sport of boxing. Moreover, Sweeney has added tutoring to the youth program, ensuring participants are staying ahead in school and focusing on the importance of education. “Books before boxing” is a common phrase heard around the gym.
Since its inception, the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program has helped nearly 300 students graduate high school, and 98% of them have gone on to college. Sweeney cites his difficult childhood as the reason he has been able to reach these students in a way that others cannot. He has lived through many of the challenges his young boxers are facing right now, so they respect and listen to him intently. Sweeney has dedicated his life to saving these kids from the same hardships he faced when he was their age. “Just imagine if you just fell in a hole and broke every bone in your body. It took you 20 years to crawl out of this hole, and the minute you crawl out, you see a young kid about to run right in that hole. You just move out of the way and let them fall in there? I can't do it. So, I'm going to do everything I can do to stop people from falling in that hole. I'm going to cover it up; I'm going to block it. Whatever I've got to do.”
Yet another reason Sweeney has been so successful in mentoring is because he doesn’t look at or teach his students like they are criminals or delinquents. He sees every young person that comes to his gym as having unlimited potential and worth. This is an important lesson for all those who are working to shape the lives of our children; those who are in challenging situations are incredibly powerful and resilient. They are capable of rising to the top of their circumstances, so we must not constantly treat them as victims. Instead, we must empower them to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. Sweeney has been able to tap into that potential and provide them with the skills to be successful.
Five years after the London Olympics, athletes have descended on London again for the IAAF World Championships. The organizing committee has announced Right To Play as its official charity partner, which according to Beyond Sport, “demonstrates a continued commitment from professional sport to supporting sport for development organizations.”
Right To Play inspires athletic fans to give children around the world in the poorest communities a chance in life. Greg Rutherford, a Right To Play Athlete Ambassador said, “Right To Play and London 2017 Ltd have teamed up to put children at the heart of the World Championships and to give disadvantaged children around the world a better future, through sport and play. Many of us take playing sport for granted but not all children have the same opportunities in life. Right To Play’s approach is unique and effective and I’m proud to be their ambassador.”
This is a long-term commitment to not only continue a legacy project from the London Olympics, but also continues a long-term partnership with the non-profit to continue impacting children around the world.
At the end of July, Beyond Sport hosted community relations professionals, non-profits, and executives from around the world in Brooklyn, NY for Beyond Sport United. Over the course of two days, attendees participated in community initiatives, shared conversations about challenges in their respective communities and heard from thought leaders on topics pertinent to the industry.
There was a wide array of individuals all working to make our world a better place, whether they were athletes, team executives or league professionals. In today’s world, the media and public policies play a large role in social impact. Now more than ever, it is essential that the media reports on facts, as so many of the topics in society impact sports.
For example, one of the conference’s most impactful speakers was Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir. She was a basketball player her entire life. Living in a practicing Muslim household, Bilquis honored her religious beliefs as she grew older. She wore a hijab and covered all of her skin except for her hands when she was on the court. After a standout career at the University of Memphis, her goal was to continue playing professionally in Europe. However, it quickly ended due to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rule prohibiting head gear larger than five inches. Bilqis chose faith over basketball and became an advocate working alongside other Muslim players. She started an online campaign called “Muslim Girls Hoop Too” in order to raise awareness for women similar to her. She’s become the face of Muslim women in athletics; while she has the desire to play professional basketball, she knows her voice is more impactful on the speaking tour.
Target and the U.S. Soccer Foundation announced a major partnership to build 100 new soccer play spaces by 2020. Target committed $6 million to support the Foundation in its effort to turn underutilized spaces into safe and accessible soccer pitches.
The first three pitches through the partnership will be built in Chicago, where MLS recently hosted its All-Star Game. This partnership is a critical step in its efforts to increase the number of safe spaces across the country. It is essential that we provide areas for our youth to learn the game in a safe way in order to continue growth of the sport within the United States. Furthermore, it cements Target’s effort to make a long-term impact across the country and in communities to serve our children.
“We are thrilled to partner with Target to make soccer more accessible to hundreds of thousands of children across the country, ensuring our nation’s youth have safe play spaces right in their neighborhoods,” said Ed Foster-Simeon, President & CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. “By working with Target, we will transform underutilized spaces into hubs for physical activity, making wellness attainable to all.”