South East High School

Commentary: Seeing myself in the Southern California Falcons

I never thought I’d be on a school bus giving advice to middle school football players on our way to the beach. The Falcons and I were headed to Will Rogers State Beach for Olympic Day on the morning of June 23.

The LA84 Foundation invited 500 youth athletes from organizations all over Los Angeles, including the Falcons, to attend Olympic Day.

“It’s amazing the number of kids that live in the inner-city who have never been to the beach before,” Keith Johnson, the Falcons head coach and president, said. “So if all you know is the block you live on, then your world is only as big as that block.”

Kids wore designated colors of their organizations and rotated stations where different sports activities, such as sitting volleyball, table tennis and fencing took place.

“It was fun. It taught us a lot about sports [we know] and sports we didn’t know they had,” said Jamar Lemons, 12, who has been with the Falcons for two years. “I didn’t really think I could do some of the stuff that they [were] doing, but when I kept trying, I found out I could do it.”

Esteban Gordon, 12, who has been in the program for three years, felt appreciated after Olympic Day.

“[I was] excited because I haven’t really been out of my house, and I went to do something with the team,” Gordon said.

What intrigued me, when speaking to Coach Keith, was how he referred to the kids as his babies. It’s clear how much the kids respected him. When Coach Keith spoke, everyone paid close attention to him.

“I look up to him because he does a lot of stuff for us, and the parents do a lot of stuff for him too, and the whole team has a lot of love for him,” Gordon said.

“The event that our kids went on today, that moment will turn into a life-time memory,” Johnson said. “It’s good to have healthy memories and healthy moments when we live in a community that has a lot of unhealthy things in it.”

The Falcons were founded by Coach Keith and his wife, Karen Johnson, in 2005 and have been active ever since. They have now branched out to other programs to help kids in the community.

As stated in their mission statement online, they empower youth through “educational services, health/nutritional awareness, physical activities, social responsibility, cultural appreciation and long-term mentoring.”

“When we can take kids from the hood and bring the greatness out of them, that’s what keeps me going. I really don’t care that much about youth football,” Johnson said.

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