A little boy asks a simple question that should challenge us all:
“Are you somebody?”
I didn’t really understand the question at first, which must have showed on my face. So, the little boy with the beat up soccer ball confidently asked again:
“Are you somebody?”
We had arrived at Algin Sutton Park in South Los Angeles to check out the soccer field – if you could call it that. In grassroots soccer jargon, it was a dust bowl. Most of the grass had been ground away long ago. We were looking for a field project to invest in and our friends at the Brotherhood Crusade, the community-based organization we partner with, brought us to Algin Sutton. Brotherhood has been serving children and families in tough parts of South Los Angeles for decades – and they are all too familiar with the shortage of safe places to play for kids in the neighborhood.
The little boy, who appeared to be around 10 to 12 years old, spotted us almost immediately after we exited the car and walked across the field. It became clear that he had quickly come to a conclusion: these two men wearing business suits and ties in a neighborhood where gang colors are more often the clothing of choice – they just might be “somebody” who could do something about the field. Somebody who could make things a little better for him and his friends.
He told us that there hadn’t been any grass on the Algin Sutton soccer field for as long as he could remember. He then asked us to follow him to the playground, where he pointed to a mini-pitch with a surface that looked like a broken ankle waiting to happen. It was clearly unsafe for play, but kids were playing anyway. It was all they had.
Some two years later, we were back at Algin Sutton Park. This time, we were there to dedicate a new synthetic turf field that will provide a safe place to play for the children and families in the surrounding South Los Angeles neighborhood. It was made possible with the support of the LA Galaxy, The California Endowment, The Lowenstein Foundation and the CalSouth Foundation, who joined us in investing to make the field a reality. Another group has repaired the mini-pitch as well. It was a happy occasion all around.
A brand new synthetic turf field is now available to the community, providing a safe place to play and grow. This field is also supporting the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Soccer for Success programming, which gives kids a positive alternative to gangs and other negative influences. It was indeed a day to celebrate. Still, it’s difficult not to be a little melancholy, as well.
I don’t know if that little boy with the old soccer ball is even still around to see that things can change for the better. Two years is too long for any child to wait for a safe place to play. In two years, a kid in that neighborhood can be lost to gangs and violence. In two years, a kid there can lose hope and drop out of school. In two years, a kid can throw up his hands and give up waiting for “somebody” to make a difference in his or her life.
So, the question still hangs in the air: “Are you somebody?”