The 21st Century Rec Center

When I was a child, the neighborhood rec center served a different type of youth. Today it serves youth that are angered by the lack of love provided by a stable home environment.  It serves youth that are hungry to learn more and that want to live a better life than they currently live.  They are also hungry from a lack of food at home.  Back in my day, just about anything would hold our attention.  I remember playing baseball with tennis balls and a stick.  We played four square, kickball and raced each other all day long.  We would get dropped off at sun up and get picked up at sun down.  We were safe and respected authority.  We had all the energy in the world and fueled our body with Kool-Aid and chips.  Today’s youth need to learn skills that will allow them to earn income now in an effort to survive in the world.  Going to college opens up a world of career opportunities and also gives youth and opportunity to live the American Dream but today, they are faced with not much food in the house and a lack of adult supervision.
As a child, I frequented Adams Park and Collier Park.  These centers produced several leaders of Atlanta, including Mayor Kasim Reed, City Council President Caesar Mitchell and City Councilman Kwanza Hall.  For me as a child, the rec center was simply a place of recreation.  An outlet to get out the house and have fun.  Today, the rec center has to be a place of development for youth.  Staff members have to be the mother and father figure along with being tutors. 
The rec centers worked before and can work again but what type of child are the centers serving now?  Youth today have to over achieve.  You can know longer get a good paying job with a GED.  A college degree at times can’t you a job these days.  Today’s youth need to know what career opportunities exist and how to get them.  Dreaming of success occurs when your eyes are closed but when your eyes open, reality sets in.  The reality is that some of the youth in the inner city aren’t aspiring to do more than what they see in their community which is suffering due to a decline in the country’s economy.  It is time to introduce them to politics and provide a mentor that will be there every step of the way.  It is time to introduce them to programs like L.E.A.D. that takes their interest in a sport like baseball and show them how they can access college with the possibilities of becoming a General Manager for the Atlanta Braves or the Braves attorney.  The youth that we serve today needs more than words of encouragement.  They demand a road map for success.  They demand year round programs that provide year round access to an environment of hope.
A lot has changed since I was a child.  We ran to the rec center.  The rec centers today aren’t equipped to handle these young men but that L.E.A.D. is.  Today’s rec centers definitely need to be upgraded with technology because today’s teen thrives off of it.  Technology provides information that will empower youth.  When I was a kid, the big thing was staying in touch with friends that you met at a summer camp from the rec center with pen pal letters.  Obviously those days are over and will never return.
L.E.A.D. is a program based at Perkerson Park and is charged with meeting middle and high school males where they are.  Our goal is to Launch educational opportunities, Expose them to service.  Advise them and their parents on how to achieve their goals and Direct them with the legacy of current leaders such as Mayor Kasim Reed and past legends such as Benjamin E. Mays.
On August 10, 2010, Mayor Reed provided hope to inner city Atlanta youth by announcing at a press conference that 6 Rec Centers in Atlanta are now open and ready to serve.  I was fortunate to be in attendance for the press conference and hope sounded really loud from the cheers of young kids that were there as well.  Hope is no longer a dream.  Hope is now a reality; the centers our youth so desperately need are opening. L.E.A.D. is ready to join Mayor Reed’s initiative and serve with programming.