By John Denton, OrlandoMagic.com
Well-spoken and mature beyond their years, a stream of students addressed Orlando Magic standout guard Arron Afflalo on Thursday and told him stories of how the U.S. Dream Academy had both shaped and saved their lives.
The children, many of them the product of broken homes and scarred backgrounds, have used the U.S. Dream Academy to learn skills, build character and set themselves on the path for success, while also avoiding the mean streets. Afflalo, who survived life in Compton, Calif., as a child, listened intently to the stories of survival from the Central Florida students.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today without the Dream Academy,” said Gina Desit, now an 11th grader at Oak Ridge High School. “The Dream Academy changed me for the better,” said Shantdella Garcon, a junior at Jones High School. “With all of the things that I have been through in my life, the people here helped me make a change in my life and helped me become a better person.”
And then there was this from Noudjeko Sayesse, 18, an aspiring physical therapist: “The Dream Academy helped me want to be successful. A big problem today is that some young people don’t want to be successful. The Dream Academy helped me to focus on my goals in life.”
Studies show that children and young adults are 90 percent more likely to be victims of crime between the hours of 3 to 6 p.m. on school days. The occurrence of teen pregnancy also rises dramatically during those times when children are the most likely to be unsupervised after school.
The U.S. Dream Academy’s “3 to 6 Program,” utilizes safe spaces and educational leaders to provide a place where children of incarcerated parents can come after school to learn, meet with mentors and participate in technology-driven curricula. As the teens at Thursday’s event testified, the program has kept them on the right path for success and saved their lives.
Afflalo, whom the Magic acquired in an August trade with the Denver Nuggets, attended Thursday’s event to lend his support to the U.S, Dream Academy. Afflalo grew up with two loving parents who helped guide him through the troubled areas around him while growing up in Compton, so he knows firsthand the value of having direction in a child’s life.
“It’s understandable that (after-school trouble) comes because you have a lot of free time and you are taken off that regiment of life. A lot of kids need direction, need to have a purpose, dreams and vision to keep their mind on pace for what they want to do,” Afflalo said. “I was very blessed that mom and dad were around and I had great parents. But I’ve seen the opposite end of the stick so I can kind of relate to these kids.”
There are 10 branches of the U.S. Dream Academy throughout the United States. The program, which was formed in Orlando and claims the Magic, Amway, Florida Hospital and Chick-fil-A as primary sponsors, aims to teach three primary pillars to its students: Skill building, character building and dream building. Certified teachers and approved mentors work with students on literacy and math, while also teaching the art of public speaking and life skills.
“Sixty percent of the children who lose their way in school come from parents who have been incarcerated. And there is such a strong link between school failure and incarceration,” said U.S. Dream Academy founder and CEO Wintley Phipps. “Sixty percent of young black men who don’t graduate from high school will be in prison by the age of 30. What do you do to fix that? You build the Dream Academy.”
Afflalo, who hopes to make his Magic debut on Sunday after straining his left hamstring early in training camp, said he is eager to get involved in the Orlando community so that he can hopefully make a difference in the lives of children. Afflalo said he fortunately had strong direction in his life as a child and he feels a strong tug to give back to the children so he can help them become as successful as he is.
“I feel I’m very privileged to play the game of basketball on a worldly stage and with that there’s a form of responsibility to the communities that you play in,” said the shooting guard, who has worked to improve his scoring average each of the past five years in the NBA. “You are an inspiration to the kids who look up to you as a professional athlete. So when they get a chance to engage with you, you want them to know that there are some things that are common with us that will allow them to be as successful as we are as professional athletes.”