YPSILANTI, Mich. – Association Football Club Ann Arbor and Washtenaw My Brother’s Keeper, in partnership with the Hart & Tay Train Foundation, the Rob Murphy Foundation and the Mighty Oak Project, have launched a new community youth program called CLR Academy.
The free weekly program aims to support young children’s exploration and creativity through sport, reading, writing and nutrition. CLR Academy is set to begin in June at Sycamore Meadows in Ypsilanti for its residents and surrounding community members.
An official kickoff event will be held on Saturday, June 5 at Sycamore Meadows from noon to 1:30 p.m. with food, music and giveaways. There, residents and surrounding neighbors can register their children for CLR Academy, which will take place at the residence every Saturday at noon through August.
Sycamore Meadows Apartments is at 1273 Stamford Ct. in Ypsilanti.
Through the partnership, students in grades K-8 will have the opportunity to learn the basics of basketball, soccer and football and will receive free balls, books, snacks and more.
High schoolers who would like to get involved can join the project as volunteer coaches and earn a stipend upon completion of the summer program.
WMBK project specialist Jamall Bufford, who spearheaded the project, has long pushed for free, quality programming for youth in Ypsilanti.
“This past fall, WMBK was approached by Sycamore Meadows neighborhood community member Kelly Goolsby to consider bringing some sort of programming there for the kids,” Bufford said in a release. “She had started Mindfulness Mondays and Walking Wednesdays primarily for adults in the community, so WMBK stepped up with Sycamore Sports on Wednesdays as well.
“It was something we created on the fly for the month of October, but we knew we wanted to bring something similar back once the weather warmed up. So CLR is an extension of the work we were doing back in October.”
Standing for community, leadership and revolution, CLR Academy will utilize sport to promote social confidence, positive friendships, development of team skills and sense of belonging while also placing an emphasis on mindfulness thorough conversation, journalist and breathing techniques, according to a release.
Leading the program will be Justin Harper, a longtime Ann Arbor Public Schools educator and paraprofessional, coach, supervisor and official and WMBK Steering Committee Member.
“The power of change starts from within and the experts are the ones living in their community, we’re just here to give the opportunity to bridge the gap and build a strong bond amongst each other,” said Harper in a release.
AFC Ann Arbor Chair Bilal Saeed, also a WMBK Steering Committee member, has helped Bufford and Harper bring together organizations led by men of color and like-minded community members to help anchor the program. Among the partners Saeed brought onboard are Rob Murphy, Nikki Borgess, New Orleans Saint Latavius Murray, U-M Football’s running backs coach Mike Hart and AFC Ann Arbor’s non-profit The Mighty Oak Project.
“This is extremely important because we need to let our local Black entrepreneurs know that success is possible with support from people right in your backyard, from people that look like you,” Bufford said in a release.
“We also want our young Black and Brown boys and girls to see the wide array of career possibilities for them, not only as athletes but also coaches, trainers, sports executives, mentors, authors, business owners and more.”
Murphy, who currently serves at president and general manager of the Motor City Cruise, the Detroit Pistons’ G-League affiliate has a strong connection to the Ypsilanti community after coaching Eastern Michigan University Men’s Basketball for ten years.
“Our intention when creating the [Rob Murphy Foundation] has always been to invest in the Ypsilanti community,” Murphy said in a release. “This unique partnership/program is an opportunity to join forces with community partners we admire, and our hope is that the unified approach to serving youth can be a blueprint for increased positive impact on the young people in Ypsilanti.”
Hart and Murray merged their foundations in 2020 after working alongside each other on community projects for years.
“Latavius and I are so excited to partner with the CLR Academy,” Hart said in a release. “Youth sports and educational programs played a pivotal role in our lives growing up. The programs being implemented by our partners in this academy will give marginalized youth access to sports and resources that they may not otherwise have.
“This access could change the trajectory of their entire lives. We believe in these programs and the benefits they will bring to our community.”
AFC Ann Arbor and The Mighty Oak Project will take lead the soccer programming with their Community Kicks program on site.
The Mighty Oak Project Chair Nick Lacy said he is most excited about providing free books written by local Black authors to CLR participants.
“Many of the lessons learned by playing sports include emotional resilience, mental toughness and positive exposure to new people and perspectives,” Lacy said in a release. “By adding literacy, these benefits are reinforced. We also feel strongly about supporting local authors and having relatable characters for our young readers.
“That’s why we’re grateful for the folks at Black Stone Bookstore for providing some wonderful suggestions. Our goal is to have participants of CLR come away with a new book, and an improved sense of belonging, self-worth, and confidence.”
To learn more about CLR Academy, visit CLRAcademy.org.