MLS Black Players for Change: Legacy built one mini-pitch at a time

MLS (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MLS (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The MLS movement Black Players for Change has already created a lasting legacy

The newly constructed mini-pitches at West Side High School in Newark unveiled in October literally began cementing this legacy. In this construction program, mini-pitches began opening in 2018 to ensure safe places for children to play soccer in Newark.

The program was initially sponsored by Red Bulls New York (RBNY) with the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Newark Board of Education. Now Black Players for Change has joined the effort to increase mini-pitch openings.

Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow said these first mini-pitches in Newark are just the beginning. The co-founder and executive director of Black Players for Change added that the organization plans mini-pitches in Black communities nationwide. The goal is to provide youth of color more opportunities to play the game and benefit at a grassroots level.

Besides daytime play, the pitches have lighting to allow for another three hours of use per day. Other partners have joined the program, including Adidas and Jusco Lighting, with the goal of opening at least 12 new mini-pitches every year.

Denis Hamlett, RBNY sporting director, added that all the partners support establishing pitches that promote the values of Black Players for Change. Ed Foster-Simeon, president and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, noted that the pitches will serve at times as a forum for students to converse with community leaders and members of Black Players for Change.

Many had their first look at Black Players for Change on July 8 when members of the organization demonstrated before games of the MLS is Back Tournament. They spoke out for systemic change inside and outside MLS.

At that time the organization numbered about 170 MLS players, coaches, and staff. The organization has grown since then. Members pledge to contribute to organizations fighting inequality. Among collaborators are MLS and MLS Black Staff United, the league’s employee resource group for Black employees.

The first look at Black Players for Change was acclaimed as classy and colorful by Clinton Yates on The Undefeated. He traced the evolution of the movement from conversations to Instagram, then to a group chat.  The organization took the initiative so that the league wouldn’t become responsible for how issues of racial inequality are presented to supporters and observers.

Black Players for Change warm-ups were created by Warren Creavalle of the Philadelphia Union. Captains’ armbands expressed their support for Black Lives Matter. The MLS Unites Patch in the tournament provided space for players to write in the name of a person they wished to honor.

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Now that the tournament is passed, Black Players for Change stay completely busy making a difference in Newark. And they’ll stay just as busy making a permanent difference throughout the United States. It’ll happen one pitch at a time.