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Teens Beat Back Anti-Muslim Racism Through Basketball

Posted on April 21, 2017 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

"On the Courts We’re All Equals”

By Teresa Santiago

Catholic Charities Alianza

Tired of the constant anti–Islam, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric, Robert Flores, Alianza Youth Services Division Director decided to transform this racism into a teachable moment for teens participating in the Alianza Saturday Night Lights program he directs at Catholic Charities Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Center in Harlem.

Saturday Night Lights (SNL) is a violence prevention and youth-development program funded by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (and administered by groups such as Catholic Charities Alianza Division) that offers high quality sports and fitness training and academic enrichment for youth ages 11-18

“I was fed up at what I was constantly hearing on the news, travel bans for Muslims, American citizens of Islamic countries being detained at airports or not being allowed to come back home, building of a wall on the boarder of Mexico, and imminent ICE Raids,” said Mr. Flores.  “I felt like I had to make some kind of statement, take action to show our young people that fear of the unknown and ignorance begets prejudice and hate and we are better so much better than that.” 

So on a cold Friday night in late March Mr. Flores and the SNL All Star Kids invited the Andaluisia Islamic School of Yonkers, New York to a friendly game of basketball and a getting-to-know-you reception where the SNL participants and staff provided snacks and refreshments.   

“Our participants and I felt the need to invite this Islamic school to the Kennedy Center to express our love and acceptance towards everyone, giving them a sense of belonging,” added Mr. Flores

Over 50 participants ages fifteen and under including our basketball players from both the Andalusia Islamic School and the SNL program attended the event at the Kennedy Center. Players on both sides already learned that to succeed in the game and in life you need structure, discipline, sportsmanship and heart.   After the cultural and social exchange, students realized that they have much more in common than not. 

“I felt that it was a good idea to have an Islamic school come and play at Kennedy because I personally share in two cultures; I am African American and Muslim. Playing with the Kennedy team gave me confidence and a sense of family,” said Khalil Abdulkhabir, 15, a student at Andalusia Islamic School.

Elijah Smith, an Alianza SNL All Star Kids player and participant agreed.

“On the court we are all equals. They are not Muslim, Arab, Islamic on the court…we are all ball players,” Elijah said. “When you’re on the court, the color of your skin, religion, or nor race matters.  Only your game defines you.

“At the end of the day, we do the same drills, watch the same games, and have the same goal to be professional basketball player. We’re all one at the end of the day.”