Connecting Youth Through Basketball


By Carla Juarez, Development Assistant

At a community gymnasium in LaFayette Park, young men of color gather to do more than just play basketball. HOLA Athletics facilitates and provides a space for students of all ages and genders to gather from the surrounding neighborhoods of Rampart and Westlake districts to participate in free sports leagues and youth clinics throughout the year. HOLA Athletics promotes personal development, health and fitness, commitment to athletic excellence and exemplary sportsmanship. Activities not only promote physical exercise, but serve as an outlet from the stresses of daily life and an opportunity to learn teamwork skills that will last a lifetime. Through their common interest in sports, the students bond with each other when they play, but what happens to the camaraderie outside of the court?


On Saturday, February 23, our HOLA Athletics department hosted a “Brotherhood Building Lunch” aimed to facilitate inclusive conversations about masculinity, how to be supportive, how to build community, and in the end, how to develop stronger bonds with peers and mentors within the HOLA basketball league, which serves predominantly African American and Latinx youth. Because the luncheon coincided with the boys Central City Basketball Association’s annual all-star event and Black History Month, HOLA Athletics invited our male basketball league to engage in a larger conversation about supporting a diverse and inclusive community.

Nankim and Athletics Director, Cameron Schuster

Nankim and Athletics Director, Cameron Schuster

A line up of various competitions kicked off the event, with the student athletes celebrating each other’s talents on the court. From a Slam Dunk competition to a Three-point Shoot challenge, the day was filled with excitement and lots of activity. One student, Nankim, showcased his athletic talent by winning the Slam Dunk competition. He hopes to one day attend Duke University. According to the College Campaign’s recent report State of Higher Education for Blacks in California (2018-19), while more young Black high school students are graduating high school, nearly two-thirds of students lack the necessary A-G courses required to apply to CSU or UC systems. Furthermore, the equity gaps are widening. We see many of our students like Nankim who have a passion to, not only excel athletically, but also academically. Although HOLA has seen high school graduation rates increase for our youth of color, there are still hurdles to address to make sure they have an equal opportunity to enroll in college, persevere, and graduate from it. CEO Tony Brown recently discussed this issue with former LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer and LA’s Best CEO Eric Gurna on a panel titled "Education and Youth Development in Los Angeles: A Conversation" at Penn State University: “While there is no one size fits all solution to ensure black students realize their potential in college, we must work across our state to give every student access to early childhood programs, well-resourced communities robust with the Arts, Health and Wellness, College and Career counseling and A-G courses at a minimum."

HOLA hopes to address the ongoing disparity our students, particularly our young men of color, face as they pursue higher education. Through HOLA Athletics programming, we are proud to offer a welcoming, inclusive space in which our students can talk and eat together to ultimately feel encouraged to achieve their goals and dreams. After the small banquet, discussions flowed all around. We listened to the students share the positive aspects of their life as well as discuss they type of support they seek from their community, including their mentors, coaches, teachers, and organizations like HOLA. Many of the students felt they need guidance on how to navigate through the social and environmental challenges of their neighborhood and schools, such as overcoming the pressures of gang violence and sorting through the complicated attitudes toward police. Students also felt they needed help on better self-care methods to deal with stress, healthy living, peer pressure, and economic independence. By engaging with one another, they realized that they really are a brotherhood of young men, who despite facing these similar obstacles, they can stand in solidarity with each other--and in support of others--as part of this community.


March 22, 2019