LA Sparks Mentor and Encourage Local Students
By Dianne Anderson
Bringing out the basketball team brings out the fans, and let the games begin.
LA Sparks NBWA members and the coach are coming to Indian Springs High School for a two hour Jr. Sparks Basketball Clinic event to help kids learn how not to lose control in life on a bad dribble.
On Saturday, May 21, the event will be held for boys and girls ages 10-17 years, and runs from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The program is in partnership with “Operation Engage” with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Registration is required.
Linda Hart, founder and CEO of the African American Health Coalition, said the program offers educational and foundational tools that are important to help keep the kids focused in school.
Because sports events are one surefire way to reach the kids and their parents, she requested that the program come to San Bernardino.
“Where can you get the majority of parents to come out? It’s when their kids are in sports. Being in the presence of professional athletes they’re more prone to listen,” said Hart, who also works with Riverside University Health Systems, Behavioral Health Prevention and Early Intervention.
At the event, she will be working on the mental health component, tabling outreach and resources to the community as a partner. She said similar events are also planned for Riverside and the Palm Springs area.
While community leaders are quick to discuss treatment or punishment after the fact, even building more incarceration facilities, she said that very few talk about prevention. The LA Sparks program, which also partners with the DEA, allows kids to connect with role models that they respect and recognize.
Hart said that usually, athletic programs keep students focused and have positive consequences. They have to keep their grades up, and are encouraged to take care of their bodies.
“The LA Sparks come out to do basketball clinics, they work with the boys and girls,” she said. “Afterward, they talk about mentoring, and with the kids one on one. The kids are excited when they see a personal basketball coach working with them, and training them.”
Being out in the community, she said that parents, staff and counselors are dealing with behavioral health issues, much of which are the aftermath of kids that were locked up and isolated for the past two years.
“If you were living with an abuser for [a year] locked up in the house, now you open the door and come out but your emotions are still trapped in the house,” she said.
Making positive programming available like the basketball clinic can help kids build up resilience, and pull them away from wanting to engage in substance abuse.
The DEA Educational Foundation initiative is also part of the larger goal of addressing increased drug-related deaths to opioids. The agency reports that Fentanyl is now involved in approximately 49% of the drug-caused deaths in Los Angeles County and approximately 42% of the drug-caused deaths in Riverside County.
In 2017, the Los Angeles Field Division seized just under 120,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills which were fentanyl pills. In 2020, the agency reports that the number increased tenfold to 1.2 million pills.
“As a mother of five children, I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child to drug poisoning,” said California Senator Melissa Melendez in a statement. “This pandemic has led to a devastating rise in fentanyl-induced deaths across California.”
Nationwide, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, whites are at 69% of overdose deaths, compared to Blacks, who are overrepresented at 17%, and Hispanics at 12%.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Behavioral Health Equity reports that overdose death rates from 2014 to 2017 by drug among the non-Hispanic Black population has seen a sharp rise.
While attention to this epidemic has been focused primarily on white suburban and rural communities, SAMHSA reports there has been less attention on Black/African American communities experiencing a dramatic increase in opioid misuse and overdose deaths. The rate of increase of Black/African American drug overdose deaths between 2015-2016 was 40 percent compared to the overall population increase at 21 percent.
“Death rates involving synthetic opioids increased by 818 percent, and was the highest for non-Hispanic Blacks compared to all other race/ethnicities,” states the report, Opioid Crisis and the Black/African American Population: An Urgent Issue.”
To see the SAMHSA report,
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