On September 27, Oumou Doumbia ’20 received a standing ovation after a heartfelt speech at the Harlem Lacrosse Annual Benefit held at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in New York.
The event drew around 600 people—from CEOs of major companies, college coaches, and members of the Yale Lacrosse NCAA 2018 Championship team—all of whom are passionate about growing the game.
Doumbia was asked to be the honored guest speaker at the event by her Harlem Lacrosse coach and her former Middle School Principal at P.S. 76, where she first discovered and joined the program. She was also accompanied by Berkshire Boys Varsity Coach Chris Perkins and myself.
Doumbia spoke with pride and poise about what Harlem Lacrosse has done for her, how she found her way to Berkshire, and how the program directors have continued to support her along the way. Harlem Lacrosse means “family, opportunity, and inspiration,” Doumnia told the crowd. She recalled how as a middle school student she spent time traveling to colleges such as Princeton, Yale, SUNY Maritime, and George Mason, to play lacrosse. “Going to all these colleges is an amazing opportunity for students in middle school because they can get insight on what being a college student might look like. And, it shows girls what they could get if they work hard.”
Harlem Lacrosse began in 2008 when co-founder Simon Cataldo created a team of 11 students through Teach for America at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, New York. After seeing great success with his student-athletes, the program continued to grow, and it now serves over 850 boys and girls through 19 in-school programs in five cities nationwide (Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, and Philadelphia). The organization's mission is “to empower the children who are most at risk for academic decline and dropout to rise above their challenges and reach their full potential. Harlem Lacrosse inspires children to dream about tomorrow while working hard on the field and in the classroom today.”
Each student at Harlem Lacrosse receives coaching in lacrosse, as well as mentoring, academic support, leadership training, test and interview preparation, and emotional support as they navigate the application process to independent high schools and colleges.
For the last few years, the lacrosse coaches from Berkshire have attended coaching clinics and showcases for the Harlem Lacrosse players, hosted a group of middle school students from HL-Boston, and our Admission office has interviewed and admitted two female lacrosse players from the NYC program, Doumbia and Danae Williams '21. The group from Boston will be coming again this November for a 24-hour program that includes meals with Berkshire students, a group tour, class visits, mock interviews, a yoga/dance class, and, of course, a lacrosse clinic. The goal of the visit is to give the girls an authentic boarding school experience, to ask questions, and spend time with current Berkshire students.
Although over the past century lacrosse has become a staple of prep schools, liberal arts colleges, and pockets of geographic hot beds around the country, it has its roots in the cultures of the indigenous peoples of North America. It was a medicine game, a way for a community to come together to heal and strengthen each other. It was a tool for conflict resolution, a way to settle arguments and literally “leave it all on the field.” It was playful and fun. And, in most cultures, it was for boys and men only.
While I strive to teach my players to embrace the roots of the game, I also ask that they recognize and appreciate the actions taken by those before them that have made today’s iteration of the game possible. Every day the people at Harlem Lacrosse open doors for boys and girls who are strong, courageous, kind, creative, and determined, and we are proud to work with them.