Anti-Violence Program Uses Sports to Nurture Young Men

"Becoming a Man," launched last November in 15 schools, has roughly 700 participants

Seventeen-year-old Mark Harris is no stranger to trouble.  In fact, about a year ago, he says trouble is about all he could find.

"Fights, arguments, talking back to teachers, being disrespectful," he recalled.

But Harris, now a Junior at Austin Polytech Academy on the West Side, decided he wanted more in his life than detentions and reprimands.

"I'm setting high standards for myself," said Harris.

He enrolled in his High School's B.A.M. Program. It stands for "Becoming a Man," it's an anti-violence program created by Youth Guidance. It was launched across 15 Chicago Public Schools last November. Already some 700 students are a part of it.

B.A.M. is aimed at males in the seventh grade and older.

"They want to be challenged, and that's what keeps them coming to the program," say counselor and creator Tony Di Vittorio.

Di Vittorio believes the key to instilling positive change in students begins with getting them to evaluate their actions, and getting them to make connection with success in their minds and hearts.

"Have them reflect how they are presenting themselves as young men," he said. "Once the youth find a place where they can check-in regularly about their experiences, they start to gain self-regulation, emotional self-regulation."

B.A.M. has partnered with World Sport Chicago for a new initiative that exposes students to Olympic Sports (archery, and boxing to name a few), in an effort to not only build a new skill, but also help build confidence.

"What we've learned rather quickly, is you don't gain self-esteem by sitting in a self-esteem group, you gain self-esteem by doing things. A lot of the values that we talk about in the B.A.M. program can be mimicked through sports," said Di Vittorio.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab has also partnered with B.A.M., tracking students and critically analyzing their progress to determine just how successful programs like B.A.M. really are. The study is scheduled to be completed this Fall.

Harris said he has no doubt the program has influenced him in a positive way. He's already beginning the process of searching for a college to attend.

"Keep pushing myself for better things," he said.

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