Bryan Skerett joined PeacePlayers Brooklyn Leadership Development Program last spring when the program first launched at Van Dyke Recreation Center. Right away, he brought so much energy and passion for the PeacePlayers’ mission in Brownsville — to bridge the geographical divide that exists across housing developments in Brownsville through the game of basketball and to empower young people to become advocates for their community. Bryan is from Van Dyke Houses and is a fixture at the Van Dyke Rec Center. When asked about Bryan, most will tell you he is one of the most reliable, committed, dedicated young person you’ll meet. I met Bryan through our partnership with the United Brownsville Cornerstone League (UBCL). Bryan was a participant in the UBCL, a league that brings together six developments in Brownsville and police officers who police their neighborhoods to play basketball, build positive relationships, and take part in life skills / youth development workshops. Bryan was a participant in the UBCL but not as a player (he did come out of retirement for the spring season but recently told me he’s retiring his jersey to the rafters for good!). He did everything from doing the books to washing the uniforms to calling his peers to remind them when they had games. If that isn’t commitment, I’m not sure what is!
Bryan was one of the first youth to join the PeacePlayers Brooklyn Leadership Development Program (LDP) and he was also the youngest out of the group. At the time, he was just starting his sophomore year at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. Bryan is one of the most authentic young people I’ve ever met. Whenever you see him, he’s in his sweatpants and a t-shirt and he’d shake your hand and say “hey, how you doing?” Never fails! Being one of the youngest, Bryan sometimes felt pressured to prove that he belonged with the older 17-year olds and this gave off the perception that he was disruptive. It has been very rewarding to watch Bryan’s growth in the last year and his growth speaks to the power of positive adult relationships especially the relationship he has developed with Coach Sha (Basketball & Engagement Specialist for PeacePlayers Brooklyn). With younger participants joining the LDP this fall, Bryan has taken so much pride in being one of the oldest and will occasionally refer to himself as “OG Bryan.” When others found speaking on the “Night of Unity” panel a bit daunting, Bryan immediately said to me “don’t worry coach, I got it.” And he shined on the panel, sharing with the audience the experience of young people in Brownsville and the role that sports can play in uniting people from different backgrounds.
In Brownsville, most young people are faced with making a decision very early in their lives, a decision that most young people living in less privileged neighborhoods in our country very well understand – to join a gang or not to. To some, it seems like a very obvious decision but the sense of belonging and family that gangs provide has always drawn young people in. When talking to Ms. Nikeya, one of our community partners in Brownsville, she shared that this is what makes PeacePlayers LDP so unique and what attracted a young person like Bryan to the program. The Leadership Development Program has been able to provide for young people in Brownsville a safe space, a crew of positive influence that supports their aspirations and a village of adults who are invested in seeing young people grow and achieve.
In addition to being a LDP participant, Bryan is also a mentee in the Mayor’s Office Young Men Initiative program at Van Dyke Recreation Center and has represented Brownsville youth in various settings including meetings with the Mayor’s Office and he was once mayor for a day! How cool is that?! He is currently a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. He credits his courage and leadership to the mentors and his coaches from PeacePlayers that continue to support him in his leadership journey.
Written by: Sally Nnamani, Program Manager – PeacePlayers Brooklyn