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Falcons Football and Cheer Program teaches youth valuable life lessons

Camp H.O.P.E. begins this Saturday

Jason Lewis | 4/10/2014, midnight
Keith Johnson talks to two young football players, teaching them the value of respecting each other.

Youth football and cheer programs have been a staple in Los Angeles’ African American community for decades, as boys learn the fundamentals of football and girls learn the dance movements and acrobatics associated with cheerleading. For the past 10 years the Southern California Falcons Football and Cheer Program has provided excellence on the field, but their concern is much greater than that. They are developing these kids into outstanding citizens in our community.

“We wanted to use the social capital that came along with youth sports to address some of the more pressing issues of the kids in our community,” said Keith Johnson, the president of the organization. “So we used sports as the backdrop to talk about character, education enrichment, health and nutrition.”

Johnson did not want to just create a sports program, he wanted to instill “new-school principles using old-school values.” The leaders of the programs went about that by talking to octogenarians. The idea is that people in their 80s were taught certain values by their parents and grandparents, and they passed those values down. But at some point those values were lost. Johnson has brought them back.

“Never get too busy for God; get a good education; respect your elders at all times; stay out of grown folks conversations; keep your hands to yourself; all money ain’t good money; dress like you have some self-respect; be in the house before the street lights come on,” Johnson said. “Each of those values has lessons that taught other things. For example, keep your hands to yourself, when we teach that to our kids, it not only means don’t hit, it means don’t steal. It also means that if you can’t take care of a baby, don’t make a baby.”

Johnson explains that decades ago, when a lot of elderly Black people could not read or write, grandparents would check a child’s homework, even though they did not know what they were looking at. Even though they did not have the knowledge to correct it, the point was that the child knew that an assignment had to be completed. Johnson has taken that concept and created a program where students’ school work is checked on a weekly basis. The kids have to take a weekly survey to their teachers and return it to the Falcons.

“If that report does not show the standard of success that we want to see on a weekly basis the ‘get a good education’ value kicks in,” Johnson said.

Players who did not get a good report have to go to the Falcons’ mobile homework trailer, where they will do homework instead of attend practice. Missing practice means that a player will not see the field as much, so there is an incentive to do well in school and be on good behavior.

Johnson has seen many children from all kinds of backgrounds come to the program and flourish. He has seen children come from broken homes and make it to college because of the values that the program teaches.