By Gregory Powers
In Washtenaw County, there’s a free summer program for K-8 youth who reside in neighborhoods with common barriers to healthy living—a lack of transportation or healthy foods, or a history of gun violence. And, this year, it’s expanded from one to five locations—fueled by funding from the Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage.
Building community and leadership through sports
CLR Academy (Community Leadership Revolution) is a partnership between Washtenaw County My Brother’s Keeper (WMBK), a community collaborative that supports the education and growth of young men of color, and AFC Ann Arbor, a local soccer club that also focuses on community-building and impact.
Jamall Bufford is the director of WMBK and serves on CLR’s leadership team. He describes CLR as an empowerment program for young people that builds both community and leadership skills through sports.
“We wanted to bring outdoor sports programming to these neighborhoods that are predominantly black and brown,” says Bufford. “Reaching young people early and letting them get to know other people in their neighborhood.”
The program includes “sports sampling”—a mix of activities, like soccer, football, and basketball. But for youth who gravitate toward other activities, they’ve also brought in musicians, artists, and yoga instructors. The program also provides snacks, books, and time for journaling and mindfulness activities.
Bufford notes that sports can help youth with their mental health needs—which, in turn, can help with a wide range of skills, from academics to leadership potential.
An expressed community need
“This all started during the summer of 2020,” explains Bufford. “Kids were cooped up because of COVID. But there was also a fear of gun violence,” specifically, in the Sycamore Meadows neighborhood of Ypsilanti.
In 2020, Kelly Goolsby, a trusted parent advisor with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, started Walking Wednesdays in Sycamore Meadows—a weekly effort to get folks out of their houses to make connections, build trust, and discuss community needs. Goolsby approached Bufford with the idea of doing something similar for youth who were stuck at home, but were uncomfortable being outside due to neighborhood community violence.
Bufford connected with members of the WMBK steering committee—Justin Harper, an educator with Ann Arbor Public Schools who now serves as the director of CLR Academy, and Bilal Saeed, the chair of AFC Ann Arbor soccer club—and their ideas for a community wellness project began to materialize.
After two successful summers in Sycamore Meadows, through additional millage funding, they’re now operating in five Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor locations.
The programming is helping people feel connected
Bufford says that gun violence has declined in Sycamore Meadows since 2020.
“The overall vibe of the community is changing,” he says. “People say it feels more like a community now. And that they appreciate us. We’ve built some trust—they know we’re going to be there every Saturday during the summer and that they can talk to us.”
CLR has also hired high schoolers to be peer coaches in training for the K-8 kids. Bufford hopes these mentors will one day include the younger kids who are participating in the program.
Read more about CLR Academy’s history and accomplishments in their 2021 impact report.
Want to get involved with CLR Academy? Email [email protected]