The blocks of New York’s South Bronx’s carry with them a sense of cultural significance, which is evident as soon as you take a step in this district – home of South Bronx United.
To reach this borough, head uptown from Grand Central Station, through Manhattan’s Upper East Side, alongside Central Park, past the NY Met, and across the Harlem River. Once you get there, you’ll find a part of America whose history is literally graffitied on the walls.
Celebrated globally as the ground zero of hip hop, the South Bronx was the birthplace of a major cultural movement. Musical figures of the 1970s like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and DJ Kool Herc used their sound as a tool to draw youngsters back into society and away from violence.
Almost half a century later, in one of the nation’s poorest districts, history repeats itself. Except, this time, soccer takes the leading role in helping the youth through the work of South Bronx United.
Short Yet Illustrious History
Since 2009, when it was founded, this organization has gone from one team of 15 boys to more than 1,000 children aged 4–19. The not-for-profit soccer team strives to use the sport to promote social change. They are looking to engage immigrant kids living in some of the area’s most underprivileged communities.
The objectives of the club have remained unchanged over the past ten years, with its main aim always staying the same — to use soccer as a tool to help young people become productive members of their community, as well as to advance both academically and professionally.
The club works to instill character and leadership skills into these young men and women and to bring children from various different backgrounds together.
The impact and success of South Bronx United are not linked to earning a promotion or winning a goal of the month competition. You are unlikely to see the name of this club on betting websites any time soon.
What matters for them is the fact that 100% of SBU Academy graduates finish high school and 94% of them go to college. Some even make it onto the next level of professional football.
The Necessity of Sports Activism
Young people in the Bronx face many challenges. In New York, like anywhere else in the country, poverty can mean a lack of access to healthy food and education or a lack of adequate healthcare. For some, that might involve cramped or temporary living situations.
The South Bronx has the highest crime rate of the city’s five boroughs and still suffers violence at levels that haven’t been observed in many other communities in a long time. This means that there’s a scarcity of safe areas for kids to play.
Many young people live in unsafe neighborhoods and face the pressure of getting involved in gangs or dangerous behaviors. Many of them start working at a young age in order to support their family.
Others usually get left home alone and unsupervised during afternoons and evenings because parents need to work to earn money to survive.
Furthermore, many immigrant families face additional challenges. While adjusting to a new home and a different language, they also have to deal with racism or xenophobia. Some who are undocumented also face the inability to work or go to college.
The story of South Bronx United reminds us of the power of soccer. It is important to remember that this sport has the ability to inspire and effect change, as well as to bring people together in a unique way.