Can 4 college students help change the world?  As I write this, a van full of college basketball players intent on learning about social change is traveling cross country to Montana.   They will hold two five-day basketball empowerment programs for Crow Indian children and teenagers.  They are creating this out of thin-air, both designing and self-funding it.   See Their latest video is here.


1.  Can Four College Students Help Change the World?

Can college students help change the world?  We'll they're trying.  Now as I begin this, a van full of college basketball players intent on learning about social change is traveling from the East Coast to Montana (They are currently in Minnesota.)

This is their story.  It has something to teach us.  And they need our help.


The College Students

David Dean, a rising junior, has several passions in life.  A political science major and sociology minor, he's fascinated with social justice work.  Since a high school history class, he's been concerned with the plight of American Indian children growing up on reservations in a culture of poverty, broken homes, unemployment, and alcoholism.

He also loves basketball.  In high school, he was a point guard and captain of his team.  In his freshman year at Guilford, he continued to play basketball earning All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference Academic honors.

And six months ago, he had an idea...


Their Organization

While many college students spend their time looking to be hired for a summer internship, David and his college friends have done something else.   They're creating theirs from thin air. 

This spring, David and three colleagues—one woman, three men—have formed Unity Hoops Basketball.  Their goal is to see if they can take a small step in changing the world.  Their goal is to work with Crow Indian people, using basketball to teach far greater life lessons.


The Need

Life is heartbreakingly tough for Indian children living on the Crow Reservation south of Billings, Montana.  They grow up in families that are racked by alcoholism and poverty.  90% of the adults are unemployed.  For those who attempt college, there is a 95% attrition rate.

And as Gary Smith writes "their homeland, through cheating, broken treaties, and sellouts, has dwindled from the 38.8 million acres guaranteed them by the U.S. government in 1851 to the present day 1.1 million."


Entering Through Strength -- Basketball

David and his friends believe that one way to empower others is to enter through their strengths.  And basketball is insanely popular among the Crow:

One winter night, the custodian at Lodge Grass High on the Crow reservation forgot to flick off a switch.

When the team bus pulled into the parking lot after a road game nearly four hours away, the lights above six of the 17 outdoor baskets that surround the school were still burning.

It was 2 a.m.

It was snowing.

Two games of five-on-five were being played.

Somehow, in the mindless way that rivers sculpt valleys and shame shapes history, the Montana Indians' purest howl against a hundred years of repression and pain had become…

High school basketball.

--Gary Smith, "Shadow of a Nation"


See The Montana Indians' Purest Howl:


The Plan

David and his three colleagues--Justin Bradley, Christina Mullen, and Keith Belcher--love basketball as well, playing at the high school and college level, well on their way toward logging their requisite 10,000 hours of practice, everything from shooting solitary free throws at dusk, to college practice, to multiple basketball camps led by big-time coaches.

Their goal is to hold two five-day basketball Empowerment Programs for Crow youth.   The goal is more than basketball.  It is using basketball to teach much larger life lessons:

* Inspiring young people to believe in larger possibilities for themselves
* Empowering them to pursue their limitless potential
* Providing role models, resources and knowledge to instill this self-belief

* Teaching leadership, goal-setting, the college process, self-discipline, perseverance through adversity, and handling peer pressure.
* Instilling a deep understanding of the power of unity - that together everyone truly does achieve more


Financing the Dream

Running their Empowerment Program is the easy part.

What's challenging is raising the money to fund it.  The students won't earn a penny and don't expect to.  They're donating their own money to help cover costs while foregoing paying summer jobs.  And they are working their heads off to bring in donations.

Look at what they've already done on their own:

1)   Designed and put up the Unity Hoops Basketball Website
2)   Designed their logo and tagline
3)   Created videos
4)   Held bake sales
5)   Held grilled cheese sandwich sales (very popular on campus)
6)   Created and sold a benefit CD of Dickinson College artists and a cappella groups entitled Sing for Humanity
7)   Sought donations online
8)   Formed alliances with American Indian advocacy groups:  The Center Pole and Running Strong for American Indian Youth


They've Had a Strong Response

Especially important has been the gift of 200 t-shirts with the Unity Hoops imprint and 200 basketballs to give to participating kids. This was an early and important vote of confidence from the legendary non-profit, Running Strong for American Indian Youth. A second came as they were joined at the Reservation by two exceptional volunteers: Scooter White and Steven Seland.

But feeding a large group of often undernourished teenage campers is costly.  And while to save money, the college students piled into a van and drove cross country, the gas alone will be $400 each way.


They Still Need Some Help...

If you'd like to consider being involved:

1)  No matter what, go see their website and video here:

2)  Consider donating -- you can donate a lot or very little -- by going here.  They'll be grateful and will keep you posted on what happens.  They're definitely going back in 2012, so whenever you read this, you can still help!

Now, as I finish this issue, they are on the reservation and the training has begun.  They've been working ten hours a day with a large group of Crow youth (10-16) who are loving it.


Postscript.  Conditions were much worse than they'd heard.  Still the two weeks were a magical, wonderful time.  They fell in love with the kids.  Their program cause such a positive stir in the community that it made the front page of the local newspaper.  (See Slam-Dunk Dreams on Gas Cap Hill.)

Now they're back and David has just pulled together a beautiful, short video about their time in Montana.  They're already planning to return with more volunteers in the summer of 2012.  Here's the video:

And check out the Unity Hoops Basketball website here.

Copyright 2006-2011. Coaching Toward Happiness. All rights reserved.

Subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness Newsletter... It's free.