Listening to the Voices of Our Communities: Spotlight on Sports Equity

Listening to the Voices of Our Communities: Spotlight on Sports Equity


I grew up just playing sports. We went to Puerto Rico every summer and played
volleyball. It just helped me have a sense of community
and family. One of my favorite sports is track because
it’s fun to run. It’s stress relieving. Feeling the wind is satisfying. I came from Atlanta, Georgia and the sport
I played was track and field. I love track. I love rehearsing. I love practicing. I love doing everything that has to do with
track. It’s something I love to do and it’s something
I’m really good at. Coming here, figuring out that they barely
have any sports at our schools, it just doesn’t feel right. New York City is the third most segregated
city in the nation. Schools that serve predominately black and
brown students have fewer teams, fewer choices, and less resources. When you look at the whitest high school in
New York City, they have 44 teams. That’s over a quarter million dollars of funding
that they get every year for their teams from the New York City Department of Education
and publicly funded, Public Schools Athletic League, PSAL. In the same breath, there’s over 17,000 Black
and Latinx students with no sports at all at their schools. When you look at the neighborhoods that don’t
have equal access to the PSAL, you’re talking about neighborhoods also with some of the
highest obesity rates in the city, asthma rates, murder rates, rates of suspensions,
and gang violence. Sports actually move kids away from a lot
of those things. The Sports Equity Campaign is a really classic
example of how NYLPI tackles an equity issue using every tool in the toolbox. It is a campaign that together with the community
partners have tackled through community organizing, public education, social media, legislative
advocacy, strategic litigation. This particular case came to us through David
García-Rosen. His students seemed to have a much more difficult
time being able to access Public School Athletic League sports. David applied to the PSAL and was rejected
on a number of occasions. He couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult
for his public school to get teams. The PSAL doesn’t provide any information as
to what they’re granting and why. In high school, I did not get to play volleyball. We applied for volleyball in our school and
we got denied even though we have enough players to play it. Through the power of our Pro Bono Clearinghouse,
we were able to obtain the pro bono assistance of the National Economic Research Associates,
NERA. They were willing to do a real expert analysis
required for potential legal action. We analyzed how many sports each one of these
schools actually had access to, the type of sport as well as the demographics. We got into the actual acceptance versus rejection
decisions of PSAL. There was a stark difference in the level
of opportunity to sports along racial lines. African American and Latino students had access
to many fewer sports. This is a textbook example of a policy that
creates a disparate impact on the basis of race. Legal action became necessary when it became
clear that the PSAL and the Department of Education weren’t going to voluntarily address
the problem. Partnering with Patterson Belknap and Emery
Celli, we filed the lawsuit against the Public School Athletic League, the Department of
Education. We were working on the lawsuit at the same
time that the Fair Play Coalition was really gearing up its outreach and organizing efforts. Fair Play Coalition really gets built at New
York Lawyers for the Public Interest. It’s a coalition of parents, students, educators,
lawyers, community activists that are coming together to fight for every student in New
York City to have equal access to the Public School Athletic League or equal access to
public sports. In the Fair Play Coalition, what we have done
recently is gather students from all over the city to raise their voices to say there’s
sports inequity in our schools and we have to change that. We handed out fliers, and we told them, “Do
you want more sports in your school?” Some kids actually gave us their information
and came out to talk to us and they tried to be a part of it. What we have done is speak to council members,
speak to policymakers, and speak to media to enlighten young people to say that sports
equity is something that we need. The way that I found out about this is, eight
students were in front of City Hall, holding up signs for equity and justice, screaming
at the top of their lungs that they want sports equity. They want fair play. They want their civil rights to be respected. I didn’t know the issue even existed. I didn’t know it was a problem until those
students came up to me. The coalition is pushing this bill that will
require the Public School Athletic League to report data annually on who gets what,
how they’re funding sports. Intro 242A is the piece of legislation that
would require the Public School Athletic League to make transparent a litany of information
that is really crucial in showing the disparity in access to sports amongst races. What we want is the Department of Education
to let us know how they’re handling the process of divvying up sports to the City of New York. How do they operate when it comes to the distribution
of the PSAL sports? We had a lobby day with the Fair Play Coalition
where we was meeting council members and trying to sign them on a bill. The kids had convinced the council members
that it was the right thing to do. And we moved from a piece of legislation that
had some support to a piece of legislation that had a majority of support from the city
council. It’s for the 17,000 students of color that
do not have sports teams. It’s for the students that only have one sport
in their school, two sports. It’s not enough for these students. We fought super hard this year for a JV basketball
team at our school and the Fair Play Coalition helped. And if it wasn’t for Fair Play Coalition,
we wouldn’t have JV basketball. They denied us. It wasn’t until the voices of the community
got loud enough that we got JV basketball. This year I decided to do basketball. Even though I don’t have track, I do run up
and down that court really fast. It gives me a chance to actually run. The New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
strength is its ability to combine its resources to really be a voice for the communities that
it serves. And that’s a combination of community organizers
and advocates, fierce and amazing lawyers at New York Lawyers. As well as its ability to partner with the
private bar and to bring the resources to bear. We listen to the voices of these communities
and their priorities and we activate them to become leaders and we put together teams
of organizers and lawyers and policy experts, and leverage the power of the private bar
to achieve their vision of social justice. For me, that gives me the most hope. We actually have organizations like NYLPI
that see communities that are most impacted as the people who should be at the center
of the change. They care. That really touched me because sometimes you
don’t have that. Knowing that somebody is actually fighting
for you to get the stuff we as young kids need. They told me I had to put my story out there. I just have to keep pushing and fighting for
what I want. It was really such an inspiring thing to do
because it’s not only for me, it’s for everyone else. So, it wouldn’t be fair for just us, our school
to have things that other people don’t have. All of the help and representation and building
a coalition, all of that is totally result of NYLPI. And I think it’s gonna transform the lives
of generations of kids in New York City.

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