Wade Davis and Darnell Moore, co-workers in New York City, conceived an idea last year over the countless lunches that they ate together.
They decided to combine both of their passions: sports and youth work for Davis, youth advocacy and leadership for Moore, an LGBT rights activist.
Concept becomes reality this summer at the inaugural sports camp aimed at empowering LGBT and straight-ally youth. YOU Belong Sports & Leadership Initiative will host quarterly camps for high school and college students, ages 14-21, each camp focusing on a different sport.
The first YOU Belong camp, basketball focused, will be held July 25-28 in Chicago. The second YOU Belong camp (soccer) will be held in November, in either California or Arizona.
"We want LGBT and straight youth [to attend], so they can see each other as equals, not different [from each other,]" said Davis, who played in preseason NFL games for three teams and then in NFL Europe for two teams. He came out in 2012.
"We need to create safe spaces for LGBT youth, and also have straight students there too, so the LGBT [youth] know that they are no different, are as acceptable and as worthy of love, affection, attention and respect as anyone else.
"We want these camps to leave a footprint and get youth around the country excited about being involved, and to make youth feel safe in sports. I think a lot of LGBT youth feel they are not welcome in sports, but we want to change that."
The Chicago camp will feature 50 to 60 students, mostly from the Chicago area, plus involvement from select NBA and WNBA players and coaches, Davis said. Plus, Dr. Bechara Choucair, the commissioner for Chicago's Department of Public Health will attend, he said.
"I think the big surprise will be that many more youth will want to be involved with the camp than the camp can support the first time. I really think there will be hundreds of youth wanting to be a part of it," Davis said.
A press conference is scheduled for May 5 in Chicago to formally announce the camp, which will include extensive team-building, plus workshops on such topics as leadership development and anti-bullying. Plus, there will be basketball drills, led by NBA and WNBA coaches and players, plus college coaches. There also will be a free-throw shooting contest at the camp.
"I think this [type of camp] would have allowed me to meet LGBT kids who are out, proud, doing things in their community. It would have made it a lot easier to own who I was at a younger age, and empowered me to love myself a lot quickerthat's the gay part of me, not just the sports person," said Davis, who admits he didn't even have a conversation with anyone who was openly gay until a sophomore in college at Weber State.
"Something like this, which high school-aged youth can be involved in … to me, it's something I never even dreamed of, so I can't even imagine the impact [a camp like this] can have. A lot of young kids who identify as queer, and I use that as an umbrella term, this camp is going to make them believe that, yes, they belong in sports, and in all parts of society.
˘ The YOU Belong Sports & Leadership Initiative opened a fundraising campaign to help make the camps free for participants. The fundraising page is: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/you-belong-lgbtqa-youth-sports-and-leadership-initiative
˘ For more information, go to: youbelonginitiative.com/ .