Shawn Granberry Gives Back to the People of Oakland

By: Sabrina Schaefer

While Shawn was growing up in East Oakland, the city was experiencing the highest rise in crime rates in the country, claiming the lives and freedom of thousands young men of color. But when Shawn reflects on his childhood, he speaks only of the privilege; of the loving family who raised him and the supportive coaches and teammates who kept him on the court rather than the streets.

Despite being a far different place than it was in the 1970’s, the threats to young Black and Brown boys in Oakland, boys who don’t have the privileges Shawn had, are still prevalent. These inequities and empty spaces he sees in his community are what’s driven Shawn to spend so much of his life volunteering and supporting the kids in his neighborhood.

“God has blessed us with so much in our lives, but there’s so many people who don’t have that,” Shawn says. “So many kids don’t have the structure we had, so we got to give that to them.”

Shawn started the Scholar Athletic Union (SAU) with good friend and NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd to give kids opportunity. Through SAU, Shawn helps underserved kids in Oakland realize their potential through sports and academics. Many of the kids he’s coached over the past decade are those whose families are struggling with the heightened difficulties during the COVID-19 crisis.

The inequity, the lack of access to healthy, affordable food, the daily hardship; that’s not new, he says. What is new, is the way Shawn now spends his volunteer hours and the ways he supports his community and young players. “The transition to food distribution was natural, a lot of these players we coach, they are the families who need food too,” Shawn says.

“I drove past ECAP (Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program) for 25-30 years, and I would just keep on driving. It’s incredible how unaware you can be of the good work going on in your community,” Shawn says of ECAP in West Oakland where he now spends two to three days a week.

Alongside ECAP staff and fellow Coaching Corps volunteers, including Joshua Jones, a former SAU player of his, Shawn helps distribute food to thousands of neighbors and families. After four months of volunteering with ECAP, the reward never gets old. “Just to look into the eyes of each person that picks up, they appreciate every box of food, every fruit, every vegetable.”

Despite the tremendous impact Shawn and the team have here, Shawn thought he could be doing more; so, he joined former NBA All-Star Antonio Davis and Coaching Corps staff member Robert Marcus’ crew distributing tons of farm fresh food across food deserts in Oakland and Richmond–admittedly creating a pretty tight schedule for himself. “We’re literally running our companies from these trucks. We’re on Zoom calls all the time,” he laughs while saying of himself and Antonio Davis, who are both business owners.

Shawn hopes the impact he and his team are having go beyond the food they’re giving out and help change the harmful perceptions he and young Black men face.

“On the news you see all this negative stuff, but [people] are getting to see firsthand all these young brothers doing positive work, helping the community. I just know that’s having an impact on people.” Shawn continues, “Even these college kids [we’re volunteering with], they see me and Antonio, we’re CEOs taking time out of very busy schedules because we really don’t have a choice. We have to give back to our community.”

To join Shawn and others as part of the Summer #CorpsCommunity delivering urgently-needed food to kids and families, visit CoachingCorps.org and find volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood. To get involved with the mass food distribution in the East Bay, contact Director of Government and Community Engagement, Robert Marcus, robert.m@coachingcorps.org.

 

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Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Benita Vargas-Brown, Volleyball Coach at Hampstead Hill Academy

Benita Vargas-Brown grew up in one of the poorest parts of Baltimore. She always wanted to make a difference in the city, which is why she became a social worker. That same passion eventually led her to coach and mentor kids in sports. Learn more about Benita’s journey in her own words.
How did you become a Coaching Corps coach?
I didn’t go looking for coaching, it found me. I was really stressed with my job and my final semester in undergrad, so my husband said, “You’re really not helping yourself. Why don’t you leave your job, take the semester off, and figure out what you want to do next?” So, I went to a volunteering fair, and that’s when I got to know Coaching Corps. It was destiny: They were looking for a volleyball coach, and I am qualified to coach volleyball. They said they needed a coach for Hampstead Hill Academy, which is literally just a walk away from our home. So, it was really perfect.
Can you tell us more about the challenges that the kids you coach face at school and at home?
When people hear Baltimore, crime and violence are among the usual challenges that come to mind, so it was extra important to keep the kids off the streets. I’ve had to drive some of the girls home so they don’t have to take the bus when it’s dark.
There have also been some differences among the girls. The school is located at Patterson Park, where on one side you have the million-dollar houses, and on the other you have boarded-up houses. So you wind up having kids coming from privileged and underprivileged situations. This created some interesting dynamics within the team that led to some difficult conversations, but we got through it eventually. That’s one of the benefits of team sports. We got this whole learning experience that wound up really positive at the end.
You mentioned something about “interesting team dynamics.” Can you share more about that?
This is actually one of the things I’m proudest [of] about my team. The girls take it upon themselves to address differences within the group. At one point, it became very clear during our practice that something wasn’t right. We were on this championship drive but there was obvious tension within the team. The girls came to me and gathered as a group to talk things through. The fact that they came up with that strategy on their own is really amazing. For me, it meant that we’re doing something right. After that talk, we got back together as a team. I’m so glad we did it because I know for a fact we wouldn’t have won the championship without sorting things out. Everybody makes mistakes. At the end of the day, what’s important is to be there and have each other’s backs.
What changes or improvements did you see in the girls as a result of being on the team?
The most obvious one would be the sense of maturity. To be in a position where you have a responsibility over something, to be able to practice and play, there are expectations. If you didn’t come to practice on Wednesday, you’re not going to play on Thursday: that’s the consequence for skipping practice.  Eventually it wasn’t the consequence that really drove them. It was their commitment.
All my [Coaching Corps] girls who tried out for high school sports made their teams. There are two highly-rated schools in Baltimore, Baltimore Polytechnic institute and Baltimore City College. To get into those schools is every parent’s and kid’s dream. They have great education and high graduation rates, and they don’t tolerate gang-related violence, which creates a safer environment for the kids. Fifteen of the girls from the team got in and played for Poly while 13 went to City. That makes me really happy.
Wow! If there’s one way to describe success and promoting equity, that would be it. With all these experiences, what advice would you give aspiring coaches and mentors for kids?
Show up. You have to be there. You have to be consistent. You can’t cancel on these kids. Over the course of my time, if I know something’s going to come up in my schedule, I plan for an assistant coach to take over. Kids know if you care. You can figure out everything else, there are Youtube videos for that. You just have to show up because these kids expect you to be there for them.
Afterschool Partners

Orlando

Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida

City of Orlando Athletics

Afterschool Program Partners

Other

JT Dorsey Foundation

Afterschool Program Partners

San Diego

Gompers Preparatory Academy

High Tech High

La Maestra Foundation – Center for Youth Advancement at Generations

The Monarch School

Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego

Soccer Kids America

YMCA of San Diego County

Afterschool Program Partners

Los Angeles

A Place Called Home

AFFIRMATIVE ATHLETICS

After School All Stars: Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Club of Venice

Boys & Girls Clubs of Carson

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica

Boys and Girls Clubs of the LA Harbor

Brotherhood Crusade

City of Huntington Park Department of Parks

East Los Angeles Rising Youth Club

Equitas Academy

Girls on the Run of Los Angeles

Girls Play Los Angeles

ICES Education

IMPACTO

L.A.C.E.R. Afterschool Programs

Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine

Los Angeles Rec and Parks

Major League Baseball Youth Academy

Norwalk La Mirada Unified

P.F. Bresee Foundation

Sloane Stephens Foundation

Street Soccer USA: Los Angeles

Team Prime Time

Variety Boys & Girls Club

Watts Rams

YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles

Afterschool Program Partners

ATLANTA

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta: Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club
Afterschool Program Partners

Boston

All Dorchester Sports and Leadership

Boston Centers for Youth & Families

Boston SCORES

Cambridge Community Center

East End House

Oak Square YMCA

Sole Train: Boston Runs Together