St. John Student Group Is Building Leaders, Achieving Cultural Knowledge

Members of Building Leaders Achieving Cultural Knowledge (BLACK) pose for the camera. Back row: Niyah Potter, Malik Stevens, Brian Morton, Marcus Stevens; Front row: Tanjah Potter, Daminus Abraham, Shakwana Albert and Careem Albert pose outside of The Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation Youth Center.

Umoja, the St. John youth sports league, is getting a helping hand from a group of impressive students in the organization Building Leaders, Achieving Cultural Knowledge (BLACK). Coach Charleston “Duce” Charles requires sports participants to have a passing grade and the eight members of BLACK are on hand to ensure that students get the extra help they need. “We tutor some of the children from Mondays through Wednesdays so not only will they have sports, they will also have education,” said BLACK’s secretary and treasurer Shakwana Albert, 13, a ninth grader at Julius E. Sprauve School.

Taking Responsibilities
In addition to tutoring students between the ages of 7 and 15 in math, english, social studies and science, the high achieving students in BLACK take on a number of other responsibilities. “BLACK is a non-profit organization that sets up fund-raisers for the children to participate in basketball camps, softball camps, attend off-island tournaments and sponsor our own tournaments,” according to 14-year-old president Malik Stevens, a JESS ninth grader. “We also plan parties to keep kids out of trouble and for parents to know that their children are safe.”

“We help the kids build their self-confidence and social skills — if kids don’t have the confidence, we show them that they can make it,” added vice president Niyah Potter a fellow JESS ninth grader. “Students must maintain a passing grade to play in the league but most of us are honor students here.” The link between sports and education is vital, according to Umoja coach Charles.

Linking Sports and Education
“You are only as strong as your weakest link in any team sport, so teaching one member to improve actually improves the whole team,” said Charles. “It’s important that those students who help with the group be more aware of what is going on to help the young ones new to the league – it builds character and everyone has unity.”

The student members in BLACK display a maturity well beyond years. “The students we tutor look up to us with respect and we teach them to balance everything equally, including school work, sports and jobs,” said Stevens.

“One of the best things is seeing improvementsn the kids that we tutor,” added Albert, who recounted a story about a student who was failing before being tutored by members of BLACK and is now passing school and has more confidence than before.

“When I first came to the group it was to help the 10- and 12-year-olds with their homework but then I was taught how to keep paper work for the games, run concessions and plan our own parties,” said Stevens.

Fund Raising for Needed Equipment
BLACK members held a successful fund-raiser beach party at Oppenheimer this summer and are planning a Christmas variety show for December. “This school year we are working to have a variety show, a Christmas party, another beach party and some dances with Wrecktion Band,” said Stevens.

BLACK’s aggressive fund-raising efforts will go towards obtaining greatly needed sports and educational equipment, Stevens added. “Most of us don’t have computers at home so we are looking for donations so we can get some computers here at the Youth Center,” said BLACK’s president. “Our scoreboard was destroyed and it would help the children and the group if we had some equipment.”

The group members meet after school at the Department of Housing Parks and Recreation Youth Center in Cruz Bay but also spend a lot of time together on weekends. “We do a lot together like go to the mall or go to see movies,” said Stevens. “And if one of us doesn’t have the money or something, we all help eachother.”

Continuing Support Group
BLACK will not break up once the leaders of this year’s group continue on to high school and college. “This group isn’t like other groups, it’s a continuing thing with continuing support,” said Stevens. “This is a big part of our lives – we are a really tight group,” agreed Potter.

“Building leaders is what the group is really about and achieving knowledge about where you are and who you are,” said coach Charles. “From the founding members from 10 years ago, a lot of successful people have come out of this organization and they are continually passing on their knowledge.”

Second J.J. Alfred Tournament
BLACK members are organizing the 2nd Annual Javon “JJ” Alfred Memorial Basketball Tournament in December at the Pine Peace Basketball Court and then their regular summer league runs through August. In addition to Stevens, Albert and Potter, BLACK members include Brian Morton, Tanjah Potter, Daminus Abraham, Marcus Stevens and Careem Albert.

Anyone interested in joining an Umoja league should stop by the Housing Parks and Recreation Youth Center across from the Cruz Bay Fire Station or call 776-6531 and ask for Charleston Charles.