Dayton Flight: a community partnership that connects students to African-American men

Keisha Anderson is working to engage more African-American men and bring them into her school.

“I want to open school spaces to dads, uncles, male mentors, pastors, barbers, whoever has a positive male influence in students’ lives. I am opening doors so they can come into our building.”

Anderson is the City Connects Coordinator at Belle Haven Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio, and although she’s excited about having mothers, aunts, and female mentors in her school, she says that these women already show up. Teachers are already comfortable reaching out to mothers. And there are already a number of programs that focus on girls.

To be inclusive and focus on boys, Anderson reached out and formed a community partnership with Dayton Flight, a professional basketball team.

Anderson doesn’t like what she calls “one and done” community partnerships, so she has found multiple ways for the team to interact with her school. The team has provided families with tickets to games, boosting Anderson’s family engagement efforts. Players also visited Belle Haven last May for Field Day and played basketball with students.

“There were these big brother moments,” Anderson recalls, “young students thinking they could actually dunk the ball even though they were up against big players. It’s these positive moments that our kids will probably live off for a long time.”

Brandon Harper, Team Market Owner and General Manager of Dayton Flight, says it was “a natural fit” to get involved with Belle Haven.

“Ms. Anderson and the kids probably felt like we were doing something for them, but they’re doing something for us. The players were out there having as much fun as the kids,” Harper says. “Of course, we’re a basketball team. We want to win championships. But if we’re not touching these young folks’ lives in some way other than entertainment, then we’re not really professionals.”

Plans are underway for Dayton Flight players to come to Belle Haven’s fall festival. And Anderson is also planning to hold a three-on-three basketball tournament.

Creating these kinds of opportunities, Anderson says, is a matter of equity.

“I can’t be a part of a district that says it’s equitable, if I’m not providing equitable programming, and there’s not a lot of programming out there for young boys, and for young black boys in particular.”

There’s also not a lot of funding for preventative youth programs, Anderson adds. Funding tends to focus on students once they are struggling.

Harper adds, “I think one of the biggest things we face with the kids nowadays is that they don’t feel like they have a purpose. So it’s important for us to come in and say, Hey, find what you’re best at. You have support systems. Hearing that from people who look like them and who have felt what they feel is important. Our players take a fresher approach to helping kids feel purposeful.”

Among the Flight players who have visited the school is Joe Ballard, who also plays for the Harlem Globetrotters. He tells students he never imagined being where he is today, and he encourages students to put everything they have into what they want to do.

This kind of encouragement is crucial, Anderson says, because some students can’t imagine what their lives will be like after elementary school; they have no idea what they want to be when they grow up.

Belle Haven’s partnership with Dayton Flight is also an example of how powerful it is to connect students to supportive relationships, and to do this work with existing community programs, whether that’s a health care provider or a basketball team.

Or as Anderson says, “All some children see of the world is right outside their window. So it’s critical to expand their view.”

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