Boys & Girls Club Helping Inner City Kids
53206, the ZIP code notorious for being the most incarcerated in America, receives little positive attention. But Ceso Sprewell, director of the North Division High School Boys & Girls Club Community Learning Center, aims to change that narrative. Sprewell grew up in Milwaukee without either of his parents, a circumstance not unfamiliar to many inner city youth. He found solace in basketball and came close to leaving the city to play for the Puerto Rican junior national team, but after spending a summer on staff with the Boys & Girls Club, he found a different calling. We spoke with Sprewell about his work.
What connects you to this work?
I see myself in a lot of the kids. I grew up in a fairly rough neighborhood, and I had some of the same struggles and experiences. A lot of times we don’t get to see the people in our neighborhoods who are doing something positive, who are successful and doing well for themselves. I try to show them that you can come from the inner city and be positive and successful at the same time, and really love what you do.
What made you decide to stay with the Boys & Girls Club, rather than pursue a career in basketball?
I saw so many kids who were just like me. They came in and played basketball all day and still had to struggle. But it was like they were oblivious. They didn’t know it was a struggle because that’s all they knew. We were talking and they started telling me about some of the issues they were facing, and a light bulb went off. The more I developed relationships with the youth, I didn’t even think about basketball anymore. I felt like it was more important for me to help the community. I could help more than just myself. And I felt that I could help to produce young productive citizens.
What is most rewarding about your job?
A lot of times the students don’t trust adults, so for them to be able to express themselves to you, that feels good because you know you have trust. Building those relationships is like payment. When you work at a Boys & Girls Club, and you’re there every day, the students and staff become your family. And it’s a blessing to be around youth who don’t even know they’re struggling. I see kids smiling from ear to ear, even if they don’t have the best things or the best situation, they’re just happy to be here.
How crucial do you think programs like the Boys & Girls Club are?
I don’t think words can express how valuable the Boys & Girls Club is, not just to students but to families. I feel like the Boys & Girls Club saves thousands of lives each year. There are so many different opportunities and programs for the youth. There are leadership programs, scholarship programs, job opportunities, networking, the chance to learn job skills. It’s a vehicle to help students find success. But it’s not just me. It takes a team and I have a great staff.
To learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, visit boysgirlsclubs.org.