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Sports and activities increasing graduation rates of African Americans

By Sherree Burruss, Sports Reporter, sherree.burruss@kmiz.com
Published On: Feb 13 2014 11:06:20 PM CST

ABC 17s Sherree Burruss looks into how sports and activities are helping improving graduation rates for African American students in Columbia.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -

Nearly 50% of black men are arrested at least once for a non traffic crime by the time they turn 23; 30% by the age of 18 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Columbia, the director of the boys and girls club says African-American men can reduce that statistic through a quality education and sports.

"We have some work to do in our community as far as African Americans to get our kids through school and making sure they are graduating on time. We definitely have some work to do," said Deronne Wilson, Columbia Boys and Girls club.

"It is still troublesome but at least we are making in roads here and there in the Columbia public school system," said Laura Nauser, 5th Ward council woman.

Through more students participating in school sports and activities the school system is making a difference.

According to Bruce Whiteside, athletic director for the Columbia school district, adding Battle High School and starting sports in eighth grade, there is an 28% increase in participation seen in fall sports compared to last year.

"I think by more doors opening that you see discipline and crime and stuff going down in schools because more kids can get involved," Wilson said.

Disciplinary actions are down per CPS numbers.

The department of elementary and secondary education shows the drop out rate for African American high school students is more than double the average drop out rate.

The graduation rate among black high school students is 72.1 compared to more than 89% for white students.

"One thing that surprised me from these statistics is that black graduation is increasing so that is a wonderful statistic because you always here such negative statistics all the time so it's nice to see the trends move in a more positive direction," said Nauser.

Jabari Brown is a Mizzou basketball player hailing from Oakland; a city known for gang activity.

"When people find out I'm from Oakland they are surprised I play basketball they ask don't you guys just shoot each other out there," said Brown.

But since the age of four, Brown's had basketball to help keep him on a path leading him to Columbia.

"I think it did and just it's the kind of choice you have to make. I have friends that used to play basketball and aren't doing it as well right now so I feel like it's just - that definitely helped but part of it is making the right decisions and the right choices," Brown said.

"It's exciting, it's living on the edge and it's glorified in our movies and pop culture and music and so we've got the people they look up to idolizing this kid of lifestyle and there are people on the other side saying it's not," said Nauser.

You know we are competing with that so i think unfortunately that glorification of gang culture or criminal behavior is winning out in a lot of instances."Nauser said.

The summer of 2013, there were ten shootings in a three month span, one killing a 17 year old African American man.

"Is losing a friend that you played athletics with something you've experienced?
Yeah I've got a few; some in jail, some passed away. it's tough but it's life," Brown answered.

Tough but not impossible. Wilson is also a coach for a boys varsity basketball team.

He stresses the importance for young black men to have a mentor, a positive male influence in their life - like a coach.

On the field, hardwood, baseball diamond; any positive outlet for young people to stay away from these kind of life choices.

"A lot of our kids the people they look up to are athletes, you know what i mean, that's motivation too - it used to be the commercial i want to be like mike," Wilson said.

Wilson and Nauser say the main influence to keep any young adult off the streets and out of trouble is through a good education, and if the way to do that is by being on a sports team and getting good grades to be able to play - then "be like mike."

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