Friday, August 04, 2006

Seeds of Peace spread by basketball

The news from the Middle East, and much of the recent history for that region, has been rather bleak. But the news from an international summer youth camp is bright.

I participated in a basketball clinic at the "Seeds of Peace" camp, an organization that brings together teens from areas of conflict in the hopes that the best and brightest from the next generation can figure out a way to help their people into an era increasingly free of conflict. Almost 200 teenagers attended the camp, most from the war-torn Middle East.

Here's one line spoken from among the Palestinian, Israeli and other Middle Eastern teens:

"I can be the president here, you can be the president there, and we'll get this resolved."

All I could think was, "Wow." They're thinking big, even though history seems stacked against them. Many here cope daily with living through war but are still seeking peaceful solutions.

Let's hope sports, basketball in this case, can back this effort.

I first came here four years ago, thanks to the effort of my agent Arn Tellem, and was happy to come back for a second time this summer.

We spent a day this week running the campers through basketball drills. NBA players Brian Scalabrine, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jordan Farmar and Etan Thomas, plus Andrea Stinson of the WNBA, were also on hand to help lead the way.

For some, we were introducing them to the sport. But many seemed to know the game quite well.

On one level, it was good to see the globalization of basketball. Many were aware of the rules and had played quite a bit -- this really broke the ice for me. And many knew the championship Chicago Bulls teams I played for, and of course this one guy named Michael Jordan, my former teammate.

As an athlete, it also reminded me of the effect we have on people. These kids are watching our every move. We have their attention, so our hope is the lessons of teamwork and sportsmanship we share can rub off in bigger ways.

Still, despite the fact that they looked up to us, they were the most impressive ones here. This was demonstrated after the balls were put away.

It showed in the "conflict session" in which we had frank discussions about life as a "radical, subjective experience."

It impressed me to see them entertain an idea but not believe in it -- just allowing everyone to get what he or she had to say out there without being shouted down. These kids already have seen some things about the state of the world. And these discussions ultimately came down to the big question of "Who am I?" -- a vital conversation to have with young people who know war as a way of life.

They all face the challenge of backing their beliefs when they leave Maine and go back to places of deep-seated conflict.

Here, they examine the sources of information -- family, government, culture and media -- and how that shapes a current belief system.

One camper from Palestine talked about his preconceived notion of all kids from Israel, but had come all the way to the neutral ground of the Maine woods to discover that "they're just like me."

They also seem to understand that they don't have the capacity to change the world in a day, but they're taking baby steps in the right direction. They know a different way is needed to change the current situation and remain open to committing to this picture of peace, even in these tough times.

They want to be world leaders; they want to be presidents; they want to be in the U.N. They have a world vision.

We had dinner together, and we were talking world politics -- how we have to do it together and how it's going to take a whole community to get us out of conflict. The kids are committed to nonviolence, and they are so positive on so many levels.

Still, they are very much kids. You'll see them gathering together, dancing and chanting, just having fun. Kids, with innocence, ambition and a love of life.

Being among them this week, I really got a sense that this world has a chance.

ESPN analyst B.J. Armstrong played in the NBA from 1990 to 2000. For more on the camp, see

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