I met Ana at Van Dyke Community Center in Brownsville where her older sister, Ashley, is a Volunteer Manager for the United Brownsville Cornerstone League (UBCL), a community initiative and one of our community partners. The UBCL brings together six housing developments in Brownsville with police officers who police their neighborhoods to play basketball, build positive relationships, and take part in life skills and youth development workshops. Ana stood out like a sore thumb because she was one of the very few high school aged girls in the gym. She sat and watched the games from the sidelines with an eagerness to play, but unfortunately the league is currently not open to girls. For months, we recruited Ana to join the PeacePlayers Leadership Development program to no avail. A vibrant personality, she’d still greet us with a smile and a hug every time she would see myself and Coach Sha at Van Dyke Rec Center.
When the Smithsonian Trip to Washington D.C., facilitated by Nike this summer, came up I reached out to Ana again to consider going on the trip with the rest of the team who had either been a part of PeacePlayers through our Leadership Development Program or our summer camp. Ana was hesitant initially, but eventually agreed to join us. Little did I know how life changing that trip would be for her. She later told me that having that opportunity to meet other young people from the other PeacePlayers sites for those three nights did a lot for her confidence. She expressed her gratitude to me for pushing her and not giving up on inviting her to join PeacePlayers.
Since returning, Ana has become the BIGGEST champion for PeacePlayers among youth in Brownsville, recruiting her other sister, Alaisha, and others to join our Leadership Development Program. Similar to most 16-year old girls growing up in Brownsville, Ana has her share of challenges. She had to move schools at the start of the school year due to multiple threats of being jumped. She is currently a sophomore at Transit Tech High School in Brooklyn and aspires to someday attend Bard College in upstate, New York. Ana reaches out to me almost every day to find out how she can help PeacePlayers or just to tag along with us to programming. I eventually invited her and Alaisha to volunteer at our Middle School Peace League program at M.S. 275.
The Girls Peace League aims to bring together young girls from different sections of Brownsville to play basketball and explore issues and barriers that girls face in the community and in sports. The younger girls immediately gravitated to Ana and Alaisha because of their closeness in age. One of the young girls was being disruptive during the session and Coach Sha pulled her to the side to chat with her. As we walked out of the school, Ana said to me “you know she’s hurting right [referring to the girl] I know exactly how she feels because I used to feel like that last year before I joined PeacePlayers.”
Ana and I talked about her school attendance and she mentioned to me how she felt the need to take school more seriously because she noticed how the younger girls were looking up to her. Ana brings a zest of energy that everyone appreciates and has been an excellent addition to the Leadership Development Program. Though from Langston Hughes Housing Development, on December 8th, Ana will be leading the girls from P.S. 275 to meet their peers who attend Brownsville Collaborative Middle School (BCMS) for the first time at the PeacePlayers Girls Basketball Twinning. Most young people who attend BCMS reside in Howard Houses while most young people who attend I.S. 275 reside in the Tilden and Marcus Garvey Houses. The event will be a celebration of girls in sports and highlight how sports can be used to unite our communities.
Ana is a true PeacePlayer at heart and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this young lady!
-Written by PeacePlayers Brooklyn Program Manager, Sally Nnamani