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‘I didn’t want to give up on this city’: Youth sports keep this pro fighting for Milwaukee

Inspired by local racial justice movements from community members and basketball teams alike, nonprofit advocate and entrepreneur Quentin Prince aims to level the playing field for his hometown's young people.

Quentin Prince.

(Courtesy photo)

In summer 2020, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Quentin Prince marched with his peers across the city. While protesting downtown one day, he gazed into the crowd and was moved to tears by the weight of the moment. The emotion was two-fold, he said.

Looking into the sea of people, he felt gratified by the show of unity, yet couldn’t fight the intense feelings of sadness that the nation had arrived at the painful inflection point in the first place.

Later, Prince’s emotions were stirred up again, when the city’s hometown NBA team, the Milwaukee Bucks, stepped out of the quarantine bubble and refused to take the floor for their playoff game against the Orlando Magic in the wake of the Jacob Blake police-involved shooting in nearby Kenosha.

Milwaukee Bucks VP Alex Lasry tweeted at the time:

The following summer, an estimated crowd of 100,000 fans of all races and backgrounds flocked to the Deer District to watch the Bucks clinch the 2021 NBA Championship. It was a healing moment, Prince said.

“They demonstrated to the world that they weren’t going to ‘just shut up and dribble,’” Prince told Technical.ly. “They wanted to be seen not only as a basketball organization, but also as a force to create systemic change in Milwaukee.”

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Not that there isn’t more work to be done.

Sports as youth change agent

As the executive director at the Milwaukee Youth Sports Alliance, Prince lives by this famous quote from Nelson Mandela:

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”

Formed in 2019, the Milwaukee Youth Sports Alliance was born of the realization that many of the city’s youth were being left behind. More than a quarter of children in Milwaukee grow up in poverty, which puts them at risk for a laundry list of challenges, including behavioral problems, low graduation rates, joblessness, violence and crime.

In 2018, during a roundtable discussion at On the Table MKE, a community-wide event inviting participants to share their vision to build a better Milwaukee, representatives from Bader Philanthropies and the Milwaukee Bucks joined Prince as they shared their concerns and dreamed up ideas to tackle the void head on.

The conversation eventually led to a report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, which highlighted the silos between the city’s sports programs, the key benefits of group sports, as well as the barriers many disadvantaged families faced in sports participation. Among the findings, the report also shared that nearly one-third of Milwaukee Public Schools students had not participated in 60 minutes of physical activity in a given week.

But the benefits of youth sports go far beyond physical fitness, Prince said. It can also be a tool for social change.

Quentin Prince with Milwaukee kids. (Courtesy photo)

“Sports shouldn’t be seen as something outside of youth development — it’s a part of it,” said Prince, who played baseball as a kid. “What I try to get our coaches and parents to understand is that … it has tons of benefits. Everything in life is interwoven together. Sports and health, sports and education, sports and economic achievement all are interconnected. It could be the solution to so many problems.”

Prince said participating in sports not only mitigates these social issues, but also provides kids with a positive outlet. It’s one of the reasons Milwaukee Youth Sports Alliance advocates on behalf of local sports programs to secure support dollars from the city and state, something Prince said usually falls to the bottom of the to-do list.

Internally, the organization is focused on creating more collaboration between sports programs from across the city and training coaches to go beyond running plays to learn sports-based youth development practices, socio-emotional learning and trauma-informed care. So far, more than 350 local coaches have received training from the organization.

“The impact that a coach can have on a youth is critical,” Prince said. “If a coach doesn’t necessarily understand what socio-emotional [factors] look like and infuse that into practices, they can have a bad experience with youth. We don’t want kids to leave a sport they love because of a bad experience. That truly is our bread and butter.”

Impact for a lifetime

As a young adult, Prince said he became accustomed to living in a city that was divided but was motivated to create change following the death of his father, and two siblings lost to Milwaukee’s gun violence. The losses made him vastly aware of his mortality.

“I knew that any impact I had in the city needed to be substantial,” he said. “I would like my impact to be felt 20 to 30 years after I’m gone.”

In between working with youth, Prince has also been inspired to help Milwaukee see through its vision to become a tech hub. He is currently in the early stages of building a startup and working with Milwaukee’s youth to realize the potential of tech entrepreneurship. Black and brown kids need to see more professionals that look like him, he said. Kids can’t be what they can’t see.

Prince’s dedication to creating a level playing field for the next generation and the city’s eagerness to embrace change following the civil and political unrest stopped him from moving to Dallas several years ago.

“I have put in a ton of work here,” he said. “I didn’t want to give up on this city. We still have a lot to do, but we are making an intentional effort to come together. The moment I don’t get emotional when a kid graduates or achieves success is the moment I will hang it up. I don’t do these things for me. I do it for them.”

Quentin Prince with a student. (Courtesy photo)

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