Victor Robinson and Peace Players

January 25, 2019

I was first introduced to Victor Robinson in early November, when he visited the Foundation’s office to learn more about how we support programs within Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD). When I learned that Victor was a DPSCD alum himself, I asked if we could talk more over coffee the following week. I wanted to hear more about his journey through DPSCD, and how he felt the District set him up for success.

Over coffee, Victor began by telling me the difficulties of growing up in Detroit in the 90s. Although he loved his city, the blight, decreased population, and lack of investment from the State was evident. Victor grew up in Cody Rouge and attended Cass Tech, from which he graduated in 2006. Despite the systemic issues in his community, Victor was proud of his high school and worked hard to be successful. After graduating from Michigan State University in 2010, he moved to Texas to work in the field of Sports Marketing. He held multiple jobs there, but in the summer of 2014 Victor decided to return to his roots. He wanted to “bring [his] outside experience back to the city” by coming back to Detroit.

When Victor returned, he said “the investment in the city was immediately apparent.” He noticed less blight, more people, and more resources. His alma mater had been torn down and rebuilt, along with many other buildings in the city and policies that were in place when Victor was growing up. This is a key reason that he returned: to be part of the action of rebuilding the community. Victor observed that “Detroiters want to help the growth and development of their city, but they often don’t have the means or access to resources.” By working with DPSCD students, he can provide them with the tools for success so that they can affect change.

Victor now works with DPSCD middle schoolers from Earhart and Dixon Schools through the program Peace Players International. This program began in South Africa in 2001 to help unite children that were divided by the Apartheid. The idea of the program is that through basketball, children can learn teamwork and communication skills that will bridge the gap of having different backgrounds. In 2016, the organization came to Detroit to combat the segregation often observed in the city. Victor helped to start the program here, and it is now well established!

After hearing about the benefits of the program, I wanted to see Peace Players in person, so I attended one of their after school practices at Earhart. The co-ed practice, which included students from 6th-8thgrade with a range of ethnicities, began with everyone standing in a circle, taking turns answering the question “who is an inspiration to you?” Students took a step into the circle and held the basketball when it was their turn to answer. As everyone had to participate, the shyer students had a chance to speak when they normally would not have stepped up. My favorite answer from one of the students was “Gandhi, because he promotes peace.”

As the practice went on, students participated in a number of team building activities. In one instance, groups of four students had to select a leader, who would then guide the other three members to shoot a basket while blindfolded. In the post-activity reflection, students stated that the activity showed them the importance of communication, trust, and going with the flow.

Peace Players is a completely free after-school program that takes place every semester and welcomes up to 40 students, both returning and new. Along with the bi-weekly practices, the program also offers monthly field trips and training sessions, which combine students from both participating middle schools. Victor told me that students look forward to these visits, because they often make friends from the other school. This semester, students have had the opportunity to attend a Pistons Game, visit the DIA, and go skating!

Peace Players is a wonderful program that teaches students the importance of team work, confidence, and diversity. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see these benefits first-hand, and had a great time connecting with Victor. He is an inspirational DPSCD alum who has returned to work with current DPSCD students. His story is intentionally full-circle, as he is now working to “invest back in the city that gave so much to [him].”

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