2 May 2018

On Wednesday, 21st February 2018, New York was the scene of a football3 event hosted by streetfootballworld together with local network members City in the Community Foundation and South Bronx United. The players from both organisations were joined by Officers from the New York Police Department who took some time off the beat to support as match mediators.

 

Safe spaces to play are a rarity in New York City. In East Harlem and the South Bronx, they are particularly hard to find. The two neighborhoods are only one train stop, a polluted river and a few short city-blocks apart and find themselves on unfortunate common ground when it comes to negative statistics. The South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the United States, with a child poverty rate of 47% and a high school graduation rate of 51%. East Harlem is the address of the second highest concentration of public housing projects in the nation and breeds some of New York City’s most violent youth gangs.  To help tackle these social challenges, local streetfootballworld network members, City in the Community Foundation and South Bronx United, are using football to work with young people and help them to build leadership skills, teamwork, and succeed through their formative years and beyond.

 

These young people often hail from backgrounds where there is a deep rift between the local community and law-enforcing institutions, such as the police force. In order to offer a different experience and shift perspectives streetfootballworld, City in the Community Foundation and South Bronx United teamed up with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York City Police’s (NYPD) 23rd Precinct to bring them all onto the same pitch – as a team. On Wednesday, 21st February 2018, they jointly hosted a football3 event.

 

Tasked with policing communities riddled by crime, gang violence, and drug abuse, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has a precarious relationship with locals whose perception of the force is often marred by negative past experiences with its officers. Officer Raymond Ortiz, a community police officer the 23rd precinct explains: “As a police officer we have to deal with all different types of issues on a daily basis. It’s not every day that you are able to work with people to help them come to their own solutions.” streetfootballworld trained 12 NYPD officers to act as mediators for an interactive day of football3 matches for girls aged 5-20. Ortiz continues, “the football3 methodology is vital for young people to experience because in life, there isn't always a referee, mediator, or police officer. Being able to learn the skills to solve problems, whether big or small, is an amazing tool to have in life.”

 

The participants in the football3 matches were divided into three age categories: 5-10, 11-15, and 15-18. Each game was meditated by 3 NYPD officers who led the group in their first ‘3-half-experience’, beginning with a pre-match discussion, physical play, followed by a post match discussion. Michelle Mota, a 15-year-old City in the Community participant reflects, “I never knew until this day that soccer can bring two communities together and turn them into a family.” Mota has played in numerous competitive soccer programmes and is a longstanding participant of City in the Community Foundation’s Saturday Night Lights initiative aimed at violence prevention and youth development, funded by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Mota said football3 fits in well with the programme goals of Saturday Night Lights: “When we sat around in a circle, I saw everyone’s face and noticed how diverse we were, yet how similarly we all thought. And not only did we think the same way on the field, but also in life.”

 

Bridget Mahon, the Youth Development Counselor at South Bronx United shared similar thoughts: “The football3 methodology was a great way to expand the sport of soccer to include the essential life skills of communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution. I was proud to see our students build community by working together with their peers and NYPD mediators.”  South Bronx United shares similar goals as it uses soccer to unite a diverse community and promote educational achievement, wellness, and character development. 

 

With over 20 NYPD officers in attendance, 75 young girls, and over 100 spectators throughout the football3 festival, the two communities came together to decide upon their own rules for the day.

 

Football proved a neutral space for NYPD and youth to work together to problem solve both on and off the field. Officer Ortiz explains, “Sports are an ideal conflict resolution tool between youths. When it comes down to it, whether its basketball, soccer, or any other sport it is a perfect teaching opportunity for the NYPD and coaches to work with youth, rather than against or in opposition to them.” In a time when communities of colour and their law enforcement agencies all too often view each other as adversaries, the relationships built over the course of this event have the potential to positively change these neighbourhoods, and the men and women who police them, for the better.

 

This article appeared in FOOTBALL4GOOD Magazine Issue 6/April 2018. Read more stories here from the field of football for good here.

 

 

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