South Bronx United, street school

That football is one of the strongest social aggregators that has ever existed, if not the strongest, is an established fact. Its nature is cross-cultural, across generations, it transcends boundaries, and over decades it has created endless opportunities for interaction, bonds, support. Worldwide. It’s cheap and easy: an international language capable of breaking down any barrier. Football is inspiration. There are no sports with the same appeal due to the brilliance of its stars or the emotional strength it manages to give the fans. For all these reasons, football is also a valuable tool for education, integration and equality.

Over the last twenty years, swarms of non-profit organizations have sprung up around the world that revolve around football, and have become a point of reference for their respective communities, changing the very nature of the game. This is happening above all in countries where the majority of the population lives in poverty, in districts where the most basic services are lacking: here, for example, football is used as a tool to keep children and teenagers off the road. While large club academies focus on cultivating talent with the goal of producing the next Messi, driven by the revenue potential that this kind of discovery would bring, charity-like associations are working on strategic programs for education and growth. Children and not only, leisure activities, psychological support.

In the case of South Bronx United – a non-profit operating in the poorest of New York City neighborhoods, where most residents have a violent past, complicated stories and difficulty finding a stable job – participants are also offered help with citizenship procedures, and school grants that go all the way to college. South Bronx United was founded in 2009 by Andrew So, a math and support teacher from the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx, in response to a lack of recreational opportunities. The team supports itself thanks to donations, and uses football as a social tool, “for the purpose of forming personality, team spirit and leadership”. Eight programs are offered by the SBU that cover different aspects of education and sports, and that embrace young people from kindergarten to college. The South Bronx Academy offers a path that goes from middle school to high school and continues through college and the world of work, dedicated to kids in the neighborhood, especially migrants or second generation.

The Global Youth League offers approximately 150 boys and girls of high school age the opportunity to play in a league, access immigration services, support in socially useful jobs, and help prepare for college. The recreational football program is open to all children, regardless of their experience. Sessions are held on Saturdays in three Bronx parks. Participants aged 4 to 15 can also receive tuition and attend events such as the annual health and wellness day fair and the annual literacy day. Finally, the College Success program serves to guarantee a degree to all students. South Bronx United Academy athletes, while the Community School project is collaborating with several elementary and middle schools to organize afternoon football games with an additional teaching component on topics such as dietary health or the development of female leaders.

Through the Pre-Academy, children between the ages of 3 and 5 can play and train twice a week and participate in workshops for whole families. South Bronx United currently cares for about 1,400 young people each year, but that was not always the case. When it started on a cold February day in 2009, only two men’s teams were sewn together from two different neighborhood schools. “It had been raining the day before our first workout, so the portion of the baseball diamond we chose for the session was reduced to a mud pool that could not be played,” says Andrew So. But despite the difficulties at the start, the hunger to be able to play football in a safe environment was so strong that the road to expansion will then be clear and fast.

In addition, these children were immersed in a range of challenges in all areas of their lives, from academic achievement to university admissions to issues related to their residence permit. So Andrew, his wife – who is also a co-founder – and a group of coaches focused on creating opportunities and involving local players in the organization. Joshua Guerra, Communication and Community Outreach Manager, points out that South Bronx United thrive on football and breathe football, even though everyone who is a part of it is also fully involved in students’ personal growth and in the goal of giving them a better future and their families. It is strange, but not strange, to think that such a mission has chosen football, rather than basketball, historically more prevalent in a city like New York: the connection between the South Bronx United and the environment in which it operates is based on a ‘accurate analysis of the neighborhoods and the people who live there: especially families coming from the south of the world and other areas where football is extremely popular while basketball is not. But while sports are the magnet for attracting children from diverse cultural backgrounds, school success is a priority for the South Bronx: and it’s thanks to the extraordinary success rates of young people who have participated in its programs (100 percent of its athletes graduated from high school, and 94 percent went to college) that the Academy in 2020 won the Laureus Sport for Good award. “It was an incredible pleasure to see SBU recognized by Laureus.

And to see the boys on stage with the players we had only seen at FIFA, “Guerra said from the stage at the awards ceremony. But it is the daily victories, in a job like this, that count the most. Being able to guide boys and girls through adolescence and equip them with the tools to become conscious adults while coming from such difficult backgrounds – that’s what makes South Bronx United different from any other team. From year to year, they continue to grow and expand to accommodate more members: an extraordinary result, but also a new challenge in terms of the capacity of the training facilities and rooms. Andrew So and his team were not discouraged: By 2022, the entire organization will move to its first real home, a 900-square-foot area just a block from Yankee Stadium. The building will also house an indoor play area and a classroom for homework and preparation for college entrance exams with the aim of expanding further.

The story of South Bronx United is just one in a sea of ​​non-profit organizations working to ensure a bright future for young people who grew up in non-service countries or communities. In the United States alone, 1.5 million registered associations offer similar forms of support, but there are many others that are unofficial, self-organized, driven by the simple will to do something for their neighborhood. An example: The Urban Football League was founded in Chicago in 2020 by Maxwell Murray to be a platform to change the narrative of football in America, a sport historically only for whites. The goal is to create a safe place to play and destigmatize the game in African American society, with championships open to all financially and playable in the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago. Also in Italy, there are several organizations that ride football to use it as a tool to create integration and have a social impact. In Padua, the anti-racist association Quadrato Meticcio works on the integration of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, helping them through football to adapt to a new continent and create an open society without barriers to gender, age or ethnicity.

Further south, the Mediterranean Antiracist Organization has been active for years in Palermo to promote an intercultural vision of society and combat racism in a municipality where the presence of migrants, poverty and unemployment are very high. Mediterraneo Antirazzista also wanted to make a mark in the urban space by renovating a very popular place in the city: the “Bocce track”, a public track in Ballarò, famous for its intense games both day and night.

Organizations like these play a fundamental role in the growth of the communities they work with, in demanding space for children, in combining play, fun and discipline. In Italy, this type of initiative has also helped to form some current and future stars of the championship, such as Moustapha Cissé from Atalanta. Once again proof that football has the power to change lives.

From Eleven No. 44

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