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July 29, 2019

Belonging and Basketball

The importance of our youth identifying with their Friend.

Oliver* is in the 7th grade. Like many youth, he loves sports, especially basketball. “I began noticing how good he was at basketball within our first couple of outings,” said Jay, his Friend. Another thing Oliver has in common with other youth is that, unfortunately, he is no stranger to bullying. Oliver is still learning how to manage his reaction to bullying and sometimes gets into trouble at school. After speaking with Oliver’s mom and teachers, Jay learned that much of the bullying centered on a common theme. Oliver was getting singled out for not being “tough” or “manly.” It became clear that Oliver desperately needed a place where he could feel accepted for who he was.

In previous outings, Jay had noticed Oliver and another youth he mentors, Alik, bonding over a game of basketball. “So I began to think that pairing the two together might benefit both of them,” Jay said. Alik had recently moved to Battleground, Wash., and was having a hard time with the lack of diversity in his school, and spending time with a peer who also identified as Black was very positive for Alik.

By building community with these youth, Jay has created interactions that both felt they were missing. “Though the youth pairing was originally facilitated by me,” said Jay, "The two now have a very real bond that models what peer-support can truly look like."

Reflecting on the year since the two became friends, Jay said, “I have seen tremendous growth in them both as individuals and in their relationship with each other. They have been able to break the stereotype of athletes in that both youth feel comfortable affirming each other and having vulnerable conversations. Both youth have expressed to me that they see the other as a brother—someone who ‘gets it.’” What’s more, Oliver hasn’t had any issues in school since he became friends with Alik. Now he embraces who he is, feeling validated and affirmed by his strong relationships outside of school.

*Youth's name changed to protect their identity. Photos shown are not of the youth in the story