By: Michael Silver
A panelist of women spanning different ages, backgrounds and ethnicities all shared their personal stories of tragedy and triumph at the 2018 LA84 Foundation Summit.
Moderated by Lolita Lopez, an NBC4 investigative reporter, she led a powerful discussion featuring high school student Lisa Parks, Girls with Sole Founder & CEO Liz Ferro, and Executive Director for the International Rescue Committee of San Diego, Donna Duvin.
The topic of sports within underserved neightborhoods and the lack of financial commitments allowing young people to participate were widely dissected by the group. Ferro, whose organization is based in Cleveland, Ohio explained how the school systems are broken and don’t offer the same opportunities between boys and girls.
“It’s usually football for the boys and if there’s anything along those lines it’s cheerleading for girls. I have nothing against cheerleading and I’m all for it, but I feel that can’t be the only option. That is what makes you rock out and overcome in life, finding what makes your soul sing,” Ferro said.
Lopez reminded the audience that participating in sports is a human rights issue. Having these opportunities to play and be given an outlet from the daily grind of life is fundamentally important.
Duvin followed by sharing stories revolving around immigrant women entering the United States for the first time.
“It’s such an important conversation for us to be having with these days and times. It really is a social justice issue that we’re trying to educate people on. These displaced women who have lived in refugee camps and denied opportunities to go to school have to start all over once they arrive in the U.S.,” Duvin said.
The IRC organization provides girls and young women the chance to acclimate to society in a safe environment. They offer a social and emotional program through soccer, providing an ability to claim their own power again, and the ability to focus in an academic setting. Team building is a core value for collegiate studies, learning how to construct a new social medium after leaving past lives behind, and establishing self-esteem to grow and thrive.
Lopez detailed a recent study in the United States, finding that 43% of high school students who plays sports feel more self-confident and evoke greater leadership skills.
Parks grew up in Atlanta and ran on her school’s track team. After moving with her family to New York City, she was shocked to find out there was no such team offered at her new high school.
“I was pretty bad before sports, getting into trouble. Once I began playing sports my attitude and behavior changed, it was something I looked forward to after school,” Parks said.
At first, Parks was speaking out for herself. As she learned more about the issues facing the community, she felt the need to step-up for other students who had similar feelings about not having the chance to play sports through their schools.
The 16-year-old student is now a plaintiff in a New York anti-discrimination lawsuit. She wants to provide kids her age, and the next generation, equal rights for athletic programs in public school systems.
“I want kids to respect each other, we all want the same thing. To play sports and have fun,” Parks reaffirmed.
Ferro then explained her motto of P.O.W.E.R., an acronym for perseverance-optimism-wisdom-energy-resilience. These are all things that can be learned from being an athlete and used in daily life.
“We’re killing stereotypes everyday as females. How about we cut out the word female athlete. Why can’t we just be an athlete?” she asked the crowd.
Lopez reminded the audience that being an athlete doesn’t mean you are one type of person, anyone can be an athlete. She also stressed the importance of social media and the messages shared online using hashtags and captions.
Each panelist shared one final word to describe the female athlete: Brave. Resilient. Courageous.