By Tyriq Thompson
SMSB Alum / Intern – Staff Writer
While there have been no reliable studies in recent years that calculate the literacy rate for Detroiters, it is not lost on many residents that illiteracy in our communities is a real thing. At a time when conversations on building generational wealth and gaining ownership have become less taboo in the Black community, generational literacy is a conversation that is too often overlooked.
Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy and their SMSB E.L.I.T.E. college readiness program, serve as more than a resource for the young men who are a part of it. It serves as a source of hope, and lays a foundation for kids who have been without one for so long.
“Our biggest thing is giving the student-athletes support and creating opportunity to have a network of individuals that can really foster their growth and development,” says Curtis Blackwell II, founder of Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy.
Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Tyrese Conner, a student of Detroit Northwestern High School, moved to the west side of the “Motor City” at the age of four. Conner says that SMSB changed his life altogether.
Conner plays football, basketball, and earned All-City track and field honors for the Northwestern Colts. His family is not well-versed in the world of football and scholarships, but he found a way to gain the knowledge necessary for him to strive for an opportunity to play at the next level and earn a college degree.
“The more I learn, the more I can teach my family about what I have to do to make it to the next level. Without the mentorship that Sound Mind Sound Body gives us, a lot of us wouldn’t know where to turn. We’d have no real guidance,” says Conner.
Conner sees himself as a confident young man, and uses that to lead and motivate his teammates at Northwestern to continue pushing through adversity. He credits SMSB with giving him a different outlook on both football and life.
“Coach Blackwell showed me that even if you don’t make it to play division one or division two ball, with whatever opportunity that you do get, you still have something outside of football to look forward to. You’re still there to get an education and graduate,” says Conner.
Conner takes three buses in order to get from Detroit’s west side to the SMSB headquarters located between Mack and Warren Avenue on the east side of the city. “I have to do what I have to do,” Conner said.
Since being a part of the SMSB E.L.I.T.E. program, Conner has seen major improvement in his reading comprehension. “My tutor is helping me to read fluently. Before, when reading something, I would add words that weren’t there and I would have to keep reading things over and over in order to get it. Now, I feel like my reading comprehension is evening out with my verbal comprehension,” says Conner.
Tyrese Conner and other young men like him, do not have an abundance of resources around them that are readily available and accessible to them. They have to go looking for it, but thanks to Blackwell and the SMSB coaches and staff, there is a place where whatever these young men need, it is available, or at the very least, SMSB serves as a valuable resource.
“Sound Mind Sound Body is that community support system for young people like Tyrese who are good kids and mean well; they may not have the guidance, direction or resources, and we want to be able to fill in the gaps for those young people,” says Blackwell.