A Basketball Education: How Peaceplayers Brooklyn Are Building Community Leaders as Well as Athletes

Christopher Jaheem Stucchi lives a few blocks away from one of the most dangerous streets in America.
On bad days, gang violence erupts or drug addicts beg for money. This is everyday life for Christopher and the kids who live in Brownsville, a divided neighbourhood once known as the murder capital of New York.
On good days, Christopher plays basketball. And there have been more good days than bad for Christopher lately – thanks to Laureus and PeacePlayers Brooklyn.
PeacePlayers is a basketball program aimed at creating safe spaces for young people to build relationships and develop into community leaders. The program gives kids from across their community the chance to come together, share experiences and shoot hoops. It gives hope to young people in a place where hope has been in short supply.
“No matter if you're in a gang or not, you can still come together in the hood and play ball,” said Christopher, who lives in the Van Dyke housing development. “PeacePlayers created a space for me to navigate by just helping me network and get to meet new people. The program changed me for the better. I learned – it made me a smarter, more intelligent young man.”
Above all, Christopher says PeacePlayers has given him a safe haven, it has allowed him to be heard and helped lead him away from gang membership and crime.
PeacePlayers was founded 15 years ago by two American brothers from Washington DC who wanted to bridge divides not just within communities but between people. One such initiative was launched after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and sought to ease tensions between police and BIPOC communities by encouraging officers to assist in running basketball camps and other activities in nine cities across the United States. Since then, five permanent programmes have been established across the United States – in addition to partner projects in the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland and Cyprus – as PeacePlayers has gone from strength to strength.

PeacePlayers supports me to be myself. It gives me a voice that I can use to not follow behind others, like a lot of athletes who aren’t playing ball any more, gang involved. PeacePlayers give me a voice so I don't have to do none of that and I can still be a young, black athlete.

Christopher jaheem stucchi
PeacePlayers is part of Laureus' Everyone Wins campaign, promoting the benefits to wider society of projects that enable young people to defeat inequality and violence through sport. In Brownsville, people on opposite sides of gang violence are being brought together by basketball. The sport is positively impacting the lives of young people and, in turn, they are positively impacting their community.
And projects such as this also have mental health benefits. Kids involved with PeacePlayers report that they feel important and that their experience has changed the way they act within their communities. That has encouraged more young people to sign up, after peers have shown them that there is an alternative to what Christopher calls “the bad route: smoking, gang violence and stuff like that”.
Outside of basketball, the project has demonstrated to Christopher that there is a world beyond Brooklyn, Van Dyke and even the NBA. He says Peace Players has given him hope for a brighter future and the chance to shoot for the stars.
“I don't really want to be a basketball player,” he said. “I want to major in science. PeacePlayers influence me by making me want to continue [in education].”

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