In Brownsville, Brooklyn, 18-year-old Javonn Islar is a young Black man who possesses a quiet but strong and charismatic presence. He and his best friends love playing hoops together which helps them to find a feeling of freedom and camaraderie. Javonn (or “J” as his teammates call him) is a normal kid growing up in incredibly challenging circumstances. From block to block, rivalries persist across housing developments in his neighborhood. Brownsville is just eight miles east of New York City but essentially a world away. It’s an area spanning only two square miles that faces tremendous poverty and violence across the highest concentration of public housing in America, that has manifested in a state of ongoing inequality.
Javonn and his family moved to Brownsville when he was 11. Shootings were frequent and he found it difficult to settle into his new community. He lives with his sister, niece and his parents, both of whom are hearing-impaired. As a result, Javonn learned sign language before he learned to speak. He would often accompany his parents to appointments and meetings to translate on their behalf.He believes being an advocate for his parents from a young age instilled in him a sense of responsibility and the desire to help others.
In his new community, Javonn found it difficult to navigate the dangers in his own backyard. The fear of walking to the wrong side of the neighborhood proved to be a constant reminder that he was not completely safe.
His journey to find safety and comfort in the sport he loves led Javonn to PeacePlayers Brooklyn. Over the last year and a half, his leadership as part of the program, that aims to unite divided communities through the power of sport and to develop young leaders who are working toward a more peaceful and equitable future, most recently led him to be 1 of 7 recipients of this year’s Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award just announced on Sunday, June 21st during the 2020 ESPYS broadcast.
The award recognizes high school and college-age youth that are using the power of sport to create true change for good. It is part of ESPN’s Sports Humanitarian Awards that celebrates and honors athletes, teams and members of the sports community who are using sport to make a positive difference in society.
This award is a testament to Javonn’s character and leadership, as he aspires to positively impact his community of Brownsville, Brooklyn through his involvement in PeacePlayers. Through PeacePlayers he has built relationships with his peers from across Brownsville that he may have never previously met. He’s led the way in welcoming new team members from rival housing developments – playing a pivotal role in helping them feel welcomed and included. In a neighborhood where you risk physical harm or even getting killed by hanging out with someone from a rival housing development, Javonn’s PeacePlayers Brooklyn basketball team is the only one that unites young people from different houses on the same team.
Javonn and his team are a visual reminder to their peers and younger youth that if you can play together, you can learn to live together. These young leaders are showing their community what a new future could look like. Since recently graduating from high school, Javonn has taken on a greater role within PeacePlayers Brooklyn’s leadership development program locally. He is mentoring younger youth in Brownsville and continuing to work with his local PeacePlayers Brooklyn coaches. As he enters adulthood, Javonn aspires to attend college and major in computer science while also studying film. He hopes in the future to use the power of media to share more positive stories about Brownsville to inspire hope in young people.
He’s also currently virtually participating in the first-ever PeacePlayers Friendship Games, where he’s had the opportunity to build relationships with his peers across the world, from Northern Ireland to Cyprus to the Middle East to South Africa, and is gaining the skills to impart change
Brownsville might be a world away from the bright lights of Manhattan, but Javonn has seen what his generation can accomplish in taking action. He feels strongly that “change is coming” when it comes to everyone being treated equally in America. Javonn is committed to continuing to work alongside his fellow PeacePlayers to bring divided communities together through basketball, and his recognition with the 2020 Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award is but one more step on his journey to help build a more peaceful world and equitable world for the next generation.
Support J and his teammates in their journey to change the world – click here to donate to PeacePlayers Brooklyn!