‘Giving back home’: How Black Toronto mentors train the next generation of Caribbean athletes

Jhanoi Walker wants kids from the Caribbean to know that setting their sights on becoming the next Usain Bolt is not the only way for them to have a successful athletic future.

While the region is known for some of its top soccer players and sprinters, Walker said he knows Caribbean youth can excel in basketball, hockey and other sports, if given the chance.

Game Plan, a new collaboration between Focused Dreams Forward — a Toronto-based charity that creates academic and athletic opportunities for youth of Caribbean heritage — and Generation Chosen — a Toronto-based nonprofit focused on raising the emotional intelligence of teens from the bottom up. serving the community — thinking it could open up Caribbean youth athletic careers and create well-rounded leaders in the process.

Game Plan matches Black Canadian mentors aged 18-25 who are interested in sports with youth in the Caribbean, with the goal of creating positive relationships for young people.

The mentors are not scouts, but their goal is to help young people see a future in a sport that may not be as popular or well supported in their home country, and broaden their horizons about where they can go to explore the world. their favorite sport.

Walker, a Jamaican-born York University student, who played basketball and soccer in his youth and now plans to become a teacher, is one of these mentors.

The project, he said, was “my way of giving back home.”

Jhanoi Walker is one of several Canadian mentors aged 18 to 25 who are part of a new project called Game Plan. (CBC News)

Over the next few weeks, mentors will lead virtual sessions with young people in St. Lucia, with plans to hold face-to-face training in the future, said Chosen Generation executive director Joseph Smith.

Smith said athletes from the Caribbean may miss the opportunities available in North American sport, but don’t know how to take the next step.

Mentors can “really give them an idea of ​​where the ground lies, what things to keep in mind as you try to develop and expand your athletic career beyond your time in the Caribbean,” he says.

Like Walker, many mentors have Caribbean roots, which she believes can foster a deeper relationship between mentor and mentee.

Young athletes from St Lucia as part of the Game Plan have the opportunity to be mentored by athletes from Canada. (Submitted by Joseph Smith)

One of the things that attracted him to the program, he says, was the emphasis on connecting with other people in a way that was healthy and built not only better athletes, but people as well.

Fellow mentor Darren Aning agreed. The 21-year-old said the emphasis on mental health and emotional intelligence was one of the most important parts of the project.

In her own life, Aning says she observes that talking about the key values ​​needed to be a strong athlete – such as teamwork or discipline – opens the door to talking about mental health.

More established athletes talking about mental health also help people realize how important that element is to sport, she says.

“This can help play a role in how they perform athletically,” said Aning, adding that the relationships the project fosters make talking about these themes more likely.

Darren Aning, 21, said the emphasis on mental health and emotional intelligence was one of the most important parts of this project for him. (CBC News)

John Wiggins, CEO and co-founder of Focused Dreams Forward and an executive at the Toronto Raptors, said he has always been a huge advocate for the positive role sport can play in young people’s lives.

While Game Plan is a new project for Focused Dreams Forward, Wiggins said he took some inspiration from Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who founded the Giants of Africa, an organization that uses basketball as a means to educate and enrich the lives of African youth.

“Seeing what he can do for the African continent, it’s really, ‘I wonder what I can do for my heritage and culture,'” Wiggins said.

This project doesn’t need to find the next Raptor to be successful. As much as there is hope to inspire and find the next great athlete to come out of the Caribbean, he says, there is also hope to find the next great leader who can take advantage of every opportunity.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — see Becoming Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more of the story here.

Jackson Wintringham

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