When people think of me, my basketball career and successes on the court often come to mind. In reality, I have faced many obstacles in my life. However, I was lucky enough to have coaches, teachers and family members help me tackle them and grow into the person I am today. My achievements and my journey have inspired me to give back to the community and be a positive influence for children who may not have one otherwise.
In 2003, I helped found Miami’s Overtown Youth Center (OYC), which now serves 400 students and their parents through in-school, after-school, weekend and summer programs. Overtown is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city; the average annual income is between $15,000 and $20,000 per family. This community is full of children with great abilities, but most of them don’t have the right resources available, which puts them at risk — at risk of failing out of school, at risk of getting into trouble, at risk of not overcoming the obstacles in their lives.
OYC’s mission is to inspire and empower youth and families by fostering hope through education and enrichment opportunities. OYC offers a comprehensive approach to changing the lives of young people beginning in second grade through the age of 25. OYC provides in-school, after school after school and post high school services. OYC’s primary objective is to be instrumental in the development of youth in underserved and challenging environments, who can grow into resilient individuals, disciplined scholars and productive citizens.
One key resource students need to succeed is the Internet. Education is going digital. Most homework requires the Internet, and many academic support programs are online, yet most of our students at OYC don’t have Internet service in their homes. That’s why we are partnering with Comcast and its broadband adoption program, Internet Essentials. In just three years, 50,000 Florida families, or 200,000 Floridians, have been connected to the Internet at home through Internet Essentials.
Today, I, along with the OYC team, participated in a special event at OYC, alongside Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, OYC Executive Director Tina Brown, Walgreens Market Vice President Roy Ripak and other local officials and community partners. Comcast announced a new partnership with nearly 300 Walgreens Pharmacy stores in South Florida that will help Internet Essentials reach more families by making program materials available in these stores. Plus, Walgreens is giving away one free year of Internet Essentials service to 25 families served by us at OYC. (Thank you Walgreens!)
Comcast also made a great offer to South Florida families — any eligible family, from Key West up to Vero Beach, that has not yet signed up for Internet Essentials, can get up to six months of free Internet service if they are approved for the program by the end of the year, or December 31, 2014. What a great opportunity.
But what we at OYC are really excited about is that Comcast unveiled details about its first Digital Learning Zone in Florida. It is right here at OYC and includes upgrades to our computer lab with 25 new laptops, software and related equipment, along with a dedicated staff person to provide digital literacy training for our kids and basic computer skills training for the parents, thanks to funding from a Comcast grant.
What many parents don’t realize is how invaluable the Internet can be to keep tabs on their child’s education. With proper instruction, parents can learn how to go on their kid’s student portals to access grades and progress reports and interact with teachers.
I am truly grateful for the Hall of Fame honor I recently received and for a long and rewarding career in basketball. I also feel blessed to be a part of the work being done at OYC, as it involves the lives of hundreds of children. Through OYC, I have seen first-hand that these kids have endless potential, and I want to help them reach for it. Here at OYC we look forward to working together with Comcast to help close the digital divide and provide resources and opportunities for the families we serve.