In the United States, Black youth are more than four-and-a-half times as likely as White youth to be detained in a juvenile correctional facility, according to the Children’s Defense Fund’s 2012 "Portrait of Inequality" report.
Coach JD Harvey, president of Motor City Chargers, a non-profit organization located in Detroit that aims to help Black youth stay off the streets through sports (basketball, football, cheerleading, dancing and stepping) and mentoring, is one of many who are working hard to change this statistic.
“We’re giving these kids an opportunity to have a life-changing experience,” he says. “Most of them are living in low to moderate incomes with single moms and no fathers, so there’s a lack of guidance and support. Our organization does just that–the coaches also act as mentors.”
Motor City Chargers, a spin-off of Pop Warner Little Scholars, the largest youth football, cheer and dance program in the world, launched back in 2005.
Their motto: “One Team, One Family.”
Harvey has been involved since day one and credits his Christian faith for giving him the courage and strength to leave the real estate and mortgage industry six years ago, in order to pursue volunteering full time.
With approximately 150 kids from ages 5-18 on board, the organization’s mission is to provide them with the support and tools needed to help shape them into successful and productive members of society.
Although fairly new, Motor City Chargers has already experienced some success, winning the Midget Level Southeast Michigan Pop Warner Football League Championship back in 2007. More recently, however, they were named Organization of the Year (2013) by Detroit PAL, a nonprofit that positively impacts the lives of nearly 10,000 children each year through athletic and leadership development programs.
“I've been working extremely hard to brand our program because we lost some good volunteers over the last couple of years," says Harvey. "So receiving the Organization of the Year Award made me feel really good about the direction in which we’re heading.”
Moving forward, Harvey has a list of short-term and long-term goals in mind for the organization, including seeking several 15-passenger vans and buses since most of the kids’ parents don’t have reliable transportation. He also plans on purchasing two community houses, (one in Ferndale and the other on the East Side of Detroit), where kids can come to do their homework, get a bite to eat, seek counseling, take a shower, change into clean clothes, catch a breath–essentially, the houses will serve as places of refuge.
To help accomplish those goals, Motor City Chargers is in the process of recruiting more volunteers to help fill some of the roles from coaching to an administrative standpoint.
“We’re looking for people who truly want to help out the community,” Harvey says.
Although the majority of the organization’s responsibilities fall on Harvey right now, he says it all pays off when he sees the kids actually participating in sports and other activities. He adds that being able to see the fruits of his labor manifest right there in front of him is a constant reminder of why he signed up in the first place.
“That’s my reward,” he says. “It’s a great sacrifice. I have a 14-year-old son, and I find myself having to divide up my time because there are some children who are far less fortunate than him. That’s one of the things I teach my son: giving up yourself freely without expecting anything in return. That’s the definition of volunteerism.”
For more information on how to get involved, visit the official Motor City Chargers website.
Princess Gabbara is a recent graduate of Eastern Michigan University, where she studied journalism. She has written for Ebony.com, Clutch , The Glamazons Blog and a host of other publications. You can read more of her work on her blog. She also tweets at @PrincessGabbara.