MAKING A MARK: Harlem Ambassadors share messages of hope

Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Harlem Ambassadors Professional Show Basketball team was in Pike County Thursday and Friday and their showmanship and skills on the basketball court seemingly rivaled that of NBA stars, said Camille Downing, Pike Regional Child Advocacy Center executive director.

“The basketball game Thursday night at Sartain Hall between the Harlem Ambassadors and the Pike CAC Warriors was fun and exciting ,” Downing said. “And, it was also a fundraiser for the Pike CAC. We want to thank the Harlem Ambassadors and the Pike CAC Warriors for their support. ‘It should never hurt to be a child’ and our mission at the Pike Regional CAC is to protect children in a safe, child-friendly environment. The support of the Harlem Ambassadors, the Pike CAC and everyone that attended the game will go a long way in helping us fulfill our mission.”

Not only did the Harlem Ambassadors help raise funds for the Pike CAC, they also visited seven schools within the county in support of East Central Mental Health’s Bully Proof Program.

Teresa Kidd, ECMH outreach coordinator, said ECMH and the Troy University Counseling Department provided the funding for the school visits by the Harlem Ambassadors.

“We want all of our kids to be Bully Proof,” Kidd said. “We wanted the kids to hear from the professional athletes that, even they, were not immune to bulling.”

The Ambassadors shared their individual inspirational messages. They talked about the obstacles they have overcome and the choices they made in their educations, as athletes and in their careers, Kidd said

“Young people often look up to athletes,” she said. “Athletes become their role models.

And what athletes say often gets through to young people in a way that no others can. “Hearing from athletes, that they, too, were bullied and that they weren’t always popular and often felt left out and insecure, gives kids encouragement and gives them reasons to think positive. The Ambassadors entertained the students at seven schools and I’m sure that some of the kids got their messages.”

Harlem Ambassador Yoshives Belizair said his hope and the hopes of his teammates and coaches are that their messages will be heard.

“Pops, our assistant coach, says if we  reach out to just one kid, we did our job,” Belizaire said. “We take being role models seriously. We share our personal stories in hopes that we can encourage and inspire kids. We want them to know that many of us have been bullied. We want them to know that everything wasn’t all right in our lives but we didn’t quit; we didn’t give up. We stayed in there and, because we did, things got better and things will get better for them, too, if they just hang in there.”

Belizaire said he was often taunted because of his name, “Yoshi.”

“Kids would say, ‘Yoshi? Ha! Ha!’” he said. “They laughed at me and I could have let their laughter and words hurt me but I didn’t. I embraced my name. Now, I travel all over the country and around the world and kids, yell my name, ‘Yoshi! Yoshi!’ and it’s a positive thing.

“I tell kids to take what is being used against them and make it work for them.”

That’s the message all of the Ambassadors share as they travel city to city.

Belizaire said not everyone can be physically tough but everyone can be mentally tough if they embrace who they are by accepting their limitations and accentuating their abilities.

“I wanted to be a professional basketball player but I also had a Plan B,” he said. “I knew that even if I made it playing basketball, I couldn’t play forever. So, I got a degree in business. That’s my Plan B.”

Belizaire said he realizes a lot of young people have their sights set on being professional athletes – basketball, baseball, and football players.

“But the odds of that are very small,” Belizaire said. “So, I tell kids to dream your dream but have a Plan B and, hopefully, that will include your education because an education is the key that unlocks the doors to many dreams.”