Boys & Girls Clubs of America alumni across the world attest to the fact that their futures started within their Club's walls. In our cover story, Jennifer Lopez spoke about how much the Boys & Girls Clubs helped her become the woman she is today. However, she is not alone. Here are some additional wellknown alumni who were influenced by their hometown’s Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“The Boys Club was one of the pillars of our life growing up. You know there was the church, the home, the school and Boys Club. Just a place to go, you know, and learn new skills. I went to a small, very poor school. There was no gym, and so we couldn’t learn any of the skills of athletics. They had a football team, which you could join later, but that was an outdoor sport. But during the winter, there were very few activities in schools so to learn anything like team sports – basketball, wrestling, boxing, tumbling (we would learn gymnastics as they called it) – so all of those sports, which developed us physically, were terribly important. But I’ll tell you the fundamental, most important thing we learned was working with each other – black and white – because it was the only place that was integrated. In that long ago we learned as children that we are all equal. It was one of the great experiences of my life growing up from 1947 to when I left home in 1959. I was a member of the Boys Club, and I loved it.”
Cuba Gooding Jr.
“I just remember the whole organization being so open. You know, you’d go there and not recognize an adult there, but they'd say “come on in, you’re supposed to be here.” “Oh, we were told…” “no, no, it’s ok, we get it.” Everyone was so helping. Specifically, when I had a few guys I used to break dance with, and we used to carry our radio, the boom box and cardboard, and we used to go out in front of stores and get chased off and chased off, and there were also some bad elements that tried to influence us to join them for protection and that kind of stuff. We really couldn’t practice anywhere. We couldn’t practice at home because some of us didn’t have houses, you know. And then there was the Boys & Girls Club. At the time in 81, 82 it was the Boys Club, and they said “listen, you can play your music as loud as you want, you can breakdance as much as you want, but you have to start with your homework.” So that is the thing that we did. We would come in, bring our homework, work on that for an hour, and then the rest of the day, we could spin on our heads.”
“You know, I loved the club. It’s the reason I’m here. It taught me so many lessons. I could talk about it in a positive way, an honest way for the rest of my life. In your town or in your community your role models are the people you deal with that are in your faith that you can talk to, ask questions to, not necessarily some basketball player or actor on screen. So I had great role models going back to when I first joined in 1959. In our club when any kid went away to college, they would bring back their pennant and put it on the wall of the hallway going into the gym. So after a while there were more and more and more. It allowed you to imagine places you’ve never been to or thought about. We had a guy who actually played for the NBA (Gus Williams) who won a championship with the Seattle Supersonics in 1970, and he went to USC. I would look at that pennant and say “wow, California, I wonder what they do out there.” Then there was Notre Dame and other schools, and it was a way to make you dream bigger than your four square box.”
“The Boys & Girls Club is instrumental in creating great citizens. People who know how to interact well with others. Kids who believe in themselves. Kids who know they are capable of greatness. There was a very special dance teacher at our club named Larry, and I actually have these beautiful memories of Larry Maldonado doing duet dances with Jennifer Lopez because she was one of the big girls. So the little girls would crowd in the wings backstage and watch the two seasoned dancers rule the stage. And he was a very important mentor to me. I remember one weekend he gave me a lead, one of the big dance numbers, and I was so excited, and then the next day he kind of forgot and gave it to another girl, and I was devastated. And he saw me kind of really upset in the corner and pulled me aside because that’s what adults do at the Club, they really care and pay attention, and he said “what’s going on,” and I said “oh, I don’t know if I did something wrong,” and then he remembered and said “Kerry, you always have to speak up for what’s yours,” and I will never forget that. The Boys & Girls Club is a place where somebody knows who you are, they know where you’re from, they know what you care about, they know what you want to be and they’re there to help you with all of that. You can’t replace that.”
Lopez, as the Alumni Ambassador of Fitness of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, told FOX News Latino that he credits his involvement with these clubs for growing up a healthy, successful man. “Both of my parents worked, and there were lots of opportunities for me to get into trouble or gang activity — and these clubs were a big reason why I didn’t. The Boys & Girls Club introduced me to wrestling, which was a very important part of my life. Now, I travel around the country, talking with kids about the importance of being active and healthy. I love that I’m able to give back and do cool stuff like this!” He told Bonton.com, “It was a nice place for me to not only be safe but to be surrounded by great people.”