Stop a war with kids sportsHow Do You Stop a War?

I attended the convocation last evening at my daughter’s new school. It was a combination of traditional singing, ceremony and a key note.

The keynote was given by a young man from Baltimore who was recently decorated by the White House for his efforts in making a difference in our city but not just our city but cities and schools around the country. Something like, “An Idea Whose Time Has Come.”

But I am getting ahead of myself.

The young man’s name is Thibault Manekin.

He is a man of privilege and comes from a good family. That much is obvious. Once he graduated from college he started thinking of what he could do to make a difference. He and his friends thought of the strife and conflict in the world. Where does it start? At what age? He and his friends began sharing ideas and giving form to the ideas. They talked with and listened to civic leaders, politicians and religious leaders and they listened some more.  Finally, with $20,000 raised from family and friends they took off to South Africa and were given rules about how they should travel, what not to do and where not to go. Of course, they followed their own instincts and on a drive from Durban, they saw about a hundred Zulu children on a field. They stopped their car, took a soccer ball from the trunk of the car and slithered down the long hill to the field. The smallest Zulu children cried and ran to hide. The older boys puffed out their chests.

They organized two teams, fifty kids on each time and set up make shift goals. Once the game ensued, any Zulu child who got the ball passed it to their white captain from America who spoke no Zulu. Thibault rather inadvertently made a goal, wasn’t really his intention, but once the goal was made, he took off his shirt and outstretched his arms and did the airplane run around the field in celebration. He looked behind and there were not fifty but one hundred Zulu children with their arms outstretched, shirts off, doing the airplane dance in celebration, with a cloud of African dust filling the air.

From this experience an organization was born using sports to bring disparate communities together. A simple idea really. If Palestinian boys and girls play sports with Israeli boys and girls, they many not want to kill each other when they grow up. If Turkish and Greek children in Cyprus have teammates from the other community, they might become friends and learn how to work together. The organization Thibault Manekin founded was adopted by Nelson Mandela and now there are tournaments and league crossing fractional boundaries in many countries around the globe.

But wait there’s more!

How Do You Save a City and A School System?

If that wasn’t enough, Thibault kept on listening and sharing ideas which he called “when there’s something the Universe wants to say and it’s just on the tip of the Universe’s tongue, it needs to be said, someone has to listen, to bring it …”  Or something to that effect. I loved that!

Baltimore has old buildings. Dilapidated old buildings. There are a lot of Mill Buildings that are great space but haven’t been used in five decades. In Baltimore, hundreds of teachers are hired every year to come and help serve the City’s Schools. But they don’t know where to live, poor choices for housing, no real support network for teachers to live and work. Thibault took these two unrelated thoughts and joined them into a new concept. Renovate the old mill buildings, rent teacher’s  cool apartments to live in and create office and work space where teachers can support, network and solve their students problems together.  The concept has been tried twice here in Baltimore and both occasions, 100% of the space was leased before renovations were completed.  Many other cities and school systems around the country are looking at this model and effecting change for city schools. An idea whose time has come? Sure gives one hope.

Never give up hope.




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