Shooting for a better life

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Feb. 15, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 14, 2011 at 8:15 p.m.

The Harlem Ambassadors are a team of traveling entertainment basketball players that can dunk and dribble with some of the best players in the country. But they also have a personal and professional mission: To promote educational success and drug-free living for children and teens.

When they're not traveling around the country shooting professional hoops, they're lending their voices to schools and following through on their mission. On Tuesday, six of the 15 Ambassadors lent their voices to Mitchell Guidance Center school in Victoria, encouraging about 50 students to follow their dreams.

"It's cool to be smart and to get an education. Get your education - get a free education," Harlem Ambassador guard Chris Senoga-Zake, said. "Some of y'all might be doing drugs, and yeah, you think that's cool for now, but it won't be cool when you're 30 and living in your mom's basement."

Senoga-Zake also encouraged the students to rethink sex and gang affiliation.

"Girls, avoid sweet whispers from guys; y'all are too young for all that. Listen to your parents, and if you want to join a gang, join a church," he said.

Each of the Ambassadors, uniformed in black Harlem Ambassador game wear, spoke of their past personal and familial trials, and how they overcame them through education and basketball. Curtis Stephens, a rookie guard with the team, spoke of a troubled childhood in Detroit, Mich. - his brother was killed by gang violence when he was 12-years-old, and Stephens admitted to joining a gang when he was a teenager. But he outgrew gang life and decided to pursue a sports management degree at Siena Heights University.

Ambassador Guard Julia Hargrove talked about her lifelong struggles with self-esteem and poverty, even considering suicide as a junior in college as an escape from her troubles.

"I love myself enough now to fight for my dreams," Hargrove said. "Every day you have to fight, and you can't give up."

Over and over again, the Ambassadors emphasized a message of unashamedly fighting, dreaming and hoping for a better life.

"I graduated from college with honors. And people told me I couldn't play basketball because I was too short, but here I am playing for the Harlem Ambassadors," Ambassador Guard Krystal Jackson said.

To be on the team, each Ambassador is required to be a college graduate and abstain from substance use.

"We stand before you today drug free," Jackson said.

Standing in the audience listening to the team's positive message, Mitchell Guidance Center student Ryan Garza said he was inspired.

"It was encouraging to hear. It makes you think about not doing the things you shouldn't do," Garza, 16, said.

Also moved by the speech was 15-year-old Aaron Alonzo, who when asked what he took away from the message, said, "Just not to do drugs and stay off the street."

The team will travel to several Texas cities this month before moving on to New Mexico, Georgia and Florida.



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