- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2013

In the wake of the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case, President Obama stated, “We need to have an honest dialogue about what this country can do to bolster the lives of our young African-American boys. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”

We can’t ignore the fact that young black males are disproportionately more likely to be involved in a violent crime as either a perpetrator or a victim. Poverty, failing schools and disruptions in local communities have all been cited as contributing factors, which make our job of helping bolster the lives of young black males an incredibly challenging one.

Mr. President, there is a solution. It is sports-based youth development (SBYD). SBYD programs are a cost-effective safety net that can make the difference between an at-risk young person going to college or ending up incarcerated. SBYD is a field that merges youth development with sports. SBYD programs use the power of sports to attract at-risk youths into safe and constructive activities. But these programs go one step further. SBYD programs use the sports themselves to teach youths conflict resolution and life skills that can be adapted to their schools, communities and home environments. That’s why in 2009, I founded Up2Us, a coalition of more than 700 youth sports organizations leading a national movement to advance sports as a solution to the critical challenges facing the kids in underserved communities, including youth violence.

The gains from SBYD programs do not stop with keeping young kids out of jail. We can also keep 40 percent of the kids in school who would have otherwise dropped out. The cost savings to be gained through SBYD programs is invaluable in terms of the lives saved, not to mention the financial savings for taxpayers.

SBYD programs provide us with one of the most effective means to boost the lives of black youth.

PAUL CACCAMO

Executive director, Up2Us

New York City