By Joey Gelman
For the second annual year, Chicago Public Schools Office of Sports Administration hosted free summer camps across the entire city of Chicago for our students in 5-12 grade. However, this year, CPS and Project Love Chicago partnered for a potentially life-changing basketball camp initiative at Englewood Stem High School.
While the camp featured incredible basketball competition with some of the District’s top talent and coaches, it was the educational component off the court that left the students with essential life skills.
Project Love Chicago strives to provide youth mentorship services to many CPS students and aims to support them through academic scholarships, academic guidance, career guidance and even AAU basketball programs.
“Through my experiences, I saw the difference in my friends that I grew up with that were positive, they had a positive outcome, that’s why we started Project Love,” said Curtis Henderson, Founder and Executive Director of Project Love Chicago.
Project Love Chicago was birthed amidst the pandemic, as with unemployment levels rising for many parents in the Chicagoland area, more and more scholarships were needed for many students who had dreams of continuing their academic and or athletic careers in college.
That is where Henderson and Project Love Chicago stepped in and have been continuing to support Chicago youth ever since.
A hallmark of this camp outside of basketball was to provide students with guest speakers to help them understand how to navigate the next chapter of their lives whether it be in athletics or beyond. With a basketball angle, Henderson was intentional about his guest speaker list as he tries to give his students a sample of many different potential career fields and essential life skills. These speakers have included current CBS Sports Broadcaster and former Fighting Illini Stephen Bardo, Eugene McIntosh of the BIGS Media Network, Jamie Adams of Loop Capital, Jason Campbell of Brand B Sports, Alex Austin from Mount Carmel, former Fighting Illini and current CEO of Chicago Positive Impact Tracy Abrams and more.
“Ultimately the kids are more receptive to what they are saying, because they look up to these people who are talking to them,” Henderson said. They see a reflection of themselves in those people and want to be in their shoes one day.”
The last week of camp focused on the incredibly important topic of financial literacy. Henderson invited former collegiate basketball standout and founder of Athlete’s House Jalen Coleman-Lands to talk to the students about why financial literacy was essential to success in life no matter if they continue on as a professional athlete. Athletes House introduces financial best practices to student-athletes to help them become financially independent.
“The experience I’ve had playing with different people, from different social and economic status… [I realized] a commonality and plight within the community, the lack of knowledge and education in financial literacy,” Coleman-Lands said “Going into what credit is.. what is opening up a bank account and the importance of that and how they play a major role [in life].
Also with NIL (Name , Image and Likeness) growing more and more across the country, financial literacy is even more important to understand as athletes can begin to become their own brands much earlier than before.
“ At this age, what They [the kids} see is basketball and they like money, but don’t see how they coincide. You have to help them see that. Now with NIL, they’re seeing kids that are 17-18 making thousands of dollars… how do I do that? They have to build up their financial literacy IQ to grow from where they are at.”
During the early portion of the seminar, the students were asked what they thought of when they heard the word ‘wealth.’
Many students answered with “fancy cars, watches, jewelry, clothes etc” as their view of wealth was that of their favorite celebrities. However , Coleman-Lands, Henderson and the group re-assured the kids that building wealth is not just the glitz and glamor they see on social media or tv, but is through smart investment and financial literacy.
“I think financial literacy is very important to get in front of the kids early on because it can be very powerful to be financially literate before you start making money because then you understand the power of different financial vehicles to use ,” said Henderson. “Also for the ones who may not come across a fortune of money, they can still make a fortune for themselves by becoming financially literate…I’m stressing the importance of also finding what your passions are… so you can figure out what you want to do once the basketball stops bouncing.”
Another example of financial literacy was also standing right in front of the students as Co-Founder Kente Mixon was on hand from the groundbreaking shoe company Stria Sports, to provide the students with new basketball shoes and be another example of an individual whose financial literacy , determination and company vision led him and his team to become a successful competitor and the exciting basketball footwear space.
Mixon also happens to be a former teammate of Henderson’s in AAU basketball, furthering the bond of Henderson to like-minded driven individuals.
And while financial literacy is a vital educational resources in all neighborhoods, teaching it in Englewood is especially important to both the community and to those offering the guidance
“Englewood is important to me because it’s where I’m from… I’ve seen how this neighborhood has changed over the years,” Henderson said. “Obviously these neighborhoods have less resources than a lot of other neighborhoods around Chicago and ultimately our mission is to give the underfunded and underserved communities the resources they need.”
“In communities like Englewood, [they] are underbanked. It stems from generations, from grandparents saying ‘I don’t trust the banks’… so from that point on, you need someone to tell them [students] that that’s not true but also why it’s not true, and need someone to walk them step by step [on financial path].
While the camp has come to a close, CPS and Project Love will continue to be at the forefront of helping all students get the essential resources they need to continue to excel in the classroom, on the field and in life.