Kids shoot for cultural understanding

On and off court, course teaches respect

October 30, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Sneakers squeaked, shouts echoed and hands flew in the air yesterday as the children - dressed in shirts of maroon, green and various shades of blue - dashed between hoops, hoping for that desired swish that would score points for their teams.

It was another Sunday afternoon pickup basketball game - with a twist. The players were a rainbow of colors and backgrounds: children from Baltimore City and suburbia, from public, private and home schools. Children who were white, black, Latino, Korean, biracial, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Children who discovered, over the last four Sundays, that despite their differences, they had much in common.

Between basketball games, in the halls of the Park School in Baltimore County, about 60 10- to 12-year-olds met on and off the court to learn about each other's cultures, about teamwork, about making new friends.

"What time is it?" shouted Portia Boston, 12, a Park School pupil who wore a bright green T-shirt.

"Game time!" her teammates replied.

"Gooooo Green Machine!" Portia said, calling her team's name as cheers erupted. They lined up with two other teams, ready for the shooting contest ahead.

Yesterday's activities stemmed from a program called Be More, which strives to bring youth of different ethnic backgrounds together through sports. Launched this year, Be More seeks to overcome the racial, socioeconomic and religious divides in Baltimore.

"If you drive through our neighborhoods in Baltimore, they're so segregated," said Thibault Manekin, one of the program's creators. Like Manekin, who works in real estate, most of the dozen or so coaches are young professionals in fields such as finance, technology and teaching.

"Basketball is kind of 15 percent of what's actually going on here," Manekin added. "It's the initial hook that gets the kids. ... That's when the great conversation and dialogue starts taking place."

And so, as their peers thundered and dribbled their way across the court, each team - the Falcons, Green Machine, Cool Divas, Blue Lightning and Big Blue - was pulled away for a quieter exercise.

With sheets of paper and pens in hand, the children sat down to create affirmation posters.

"Everybody start writing things - nice, positive things - about each other," said Damien Davis, 26, one of several Be More coaches.

They set to work, passing sheets of paper around in a circle.

"What do you like on your paper?" asked Tierria Johnson, 10, a sixth-grader at Tench Tilghman Elementary School in Baltimore City.

"I like it when you say I'm good at lay-ups," one boy said.

"I like `good - great - passer,'" David Park, 10, said, reading his poster. He attended as part of a group from the Church of Philippi, a Korean-American congregation.

Many of the children said they were nervous that first Sunday in October, when they arrived at the Park School to meet kids from all over the Baltimore area.

"I actually dragged her in here," Heejin Jeon, 10, said of her friend, Helen Kwon, 11.

Helen laughed. Although she initially hesitated because she didn't know anyone, she said, she soon felt more comfortable and began making friends.

For Park School pupil Molly Tucker, 11, the sessions provided a chance to learn about others.

"I really liked meeting new kids and being with different cultures," Molly said, recalling the session where different ethnic groups would share what they liked about their backgrounds - and what they did not like others saying about them.

With their pilot run in October behind them, Be More's creators hope to continue the program and involve additional religious and ethnic communities.

Parents expressed support for the idea.

"It helps prepare them for the world they're going to live in," said Yvette Shipley-Perkins, as she watched her son, Ibrahim, 10, read his affirmation poster, on which peers had written that they admired his speed on the court. Ibrahim was one of the students participating from the Islamic Al Rahman School.

Heejin seemed to have grasped at least part of the message Be More hopes to spread.

"Although we're different, we're kind of from the same culture," the fifth-grader said as she sat among her new friends, reflecting on what she had learned. "We're from America."

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