NEAR WEST SIDE — Basketball saved Randy Brown’s life.
The former Bulls point guard remembers a time when he wasn’t sure where life would take him. But there was always ball, he said.
The West Side native now shares his first love with others, recently hosting students from Perspectives Charter Schools for the organization’s second annual youth empowerment event. Two hundred junior high school kids spent a day at the United Center learning about health, wellness and basketball fundamentals with help from Horizon Therapeutics and YWCA Metro Chicago.
Groups of teens visited three stations — dedicated to the mind, body and spirit, respectively — to discover the joys of clay molding, journaling, yoga and practice drills, ending the day with a special pep rally featuring Benny The Bull and members of the the Luvabulls.
While some took to the experience right away, others needed a little coaxing, said Brown, who managed to get a few nervous teens out of their chairs and onto the stadium floor.
For Brown, it isn’t about basketball so much as it is showing teens the beauty of peace and possibility.
“It’s important to stay fit. It’s also important to have a clear mind and talk about stuff. One of the things I tell the kids is to never give up, to keep trying,” said Brown, who started his career playing for the Sacramento Kings before joining the Bulls in 1995.
Mental health crises among the country’s teens and young adults were on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic, but suicide rates of Black male teens in particular have increased by 60 percent in the last 20 years, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The organization found that community violence, socioeconomic stress, stigma, interpersonal and family conflict are “greater predictors for suicide in Black children and adolescents.”
Those factors can also be barriers for Black adolescents in need of help, leaders of the psychiatry organization said. The group suggests educators, government agencies, health care professionals and the larger community all get involved to combat these issues.
Kirby Birgans, a math teachers at Perspectives, said the youth empowerment day allows students to meet others in the school network while learning how to take care of their physical and mental health.
“For some of these kids this is their first time coming here. They were so amazed by the fact they were coming here and it was like, ‘Wow, I can remember feeling like that.’ The excitement! I would love to see more kids have that type of experience,” Birgans said.
Seventh grader Micah Judah has been to the United Center several times for Bulls games, but being on the floor was a surreal feeling for the teen, who plays on Perspectives’ basketball team.
“It’s more than coming to the United Center and watching the Bulls,” he said. “There’s more you can do, and the people here try to do their best when it comes to community bonding.”
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