YES (Youth Education and Sports) with Africa is an innovative partnership that seeks to develop the athletic prowess of young people while expanding their educational and cultural horizons. The program was modeled on Niamey Hoops, a basketball camp begun in 1997 in the Nigerien town of Niamey. The program gave youngsters aged 7 to 19 the opportunity to acquire basketball skills while learning about computers and other technology, health issues, and their own cultural heritage. UMass Boston's role began at the discussion level in 1999 and quickly grew.
During the summer of 2000 Charlie Titus, athletic director at UMass Boston, joined the program as a coach, lecturer, instructor, and consultant. Then Professor Jemadari Kamara, director of the Center for African Caribbean and Community Development at UMass Boston, came aboard. Both men believed strongly that the program could serve as an ambassador of the sport of basketball and of U.S. culture in general. And they believed that capacity building—the expansion of athletic, technical, educational, and entrepreneurial activities— should be an essential part of the mission.
Yes with Africa experienced enormous success, owing largely to its focus on quality and to a high degree of cooperation among its sponsors. The program enjoyed the backing of government agencies like the Ministry of Youth and National Solidarity of Niger, corporations like Coca-Cola and Air Afrique, and local organizations like the Basketball Federation of Niger.
Yes with Africa was soon adopted in other localities—during the summer of 2002, Senegal and Benin hosted Yes with Africa camps for the first time—and interest continued to grow, far outstripping capacity.
In December 2006, Vice Chancellor Titus gave a presentation to the new President of Benin, President Yayi Boni, (a young man considered to embody the new breed of African leadership) and his staff in Washington DC. The presentation was about the YES with Africa project in Contonou, Benin. This exemplified the interest the program has attracted. Several African heads of state have told the organizers they would like to host the program if funding could be found.
The program has enjoyed broad support from governmental and private groups in Africa and has the enthusiastic endorsement of the administration and faculty at UMass Boston. In 2008 the University of Massachusetts Boston received a grant from the U.S. Department of State to support a two-year coaches' exchange program based in Senegal.
For this program, a contingent of six Senegalese visited UMass Boston in Winter 2009, and five UMass Boston representatives traveled to Senegal in Summer 2009. In 2016 new UMass Boston head men's basketball coach Jason Harris made his first trip Africa. He continued to help develop young boys and girls through the game of basketball.
There is a strong network of contacts involved with the YES program. In Senegal, for example, YES with Africa is currently active in Dakar, St. Louis, Mbour, Goree and Thies. We have involved over 30 coaches in Senegal. YES with Africa also operates at a similar scale in Benin. The YES with Africa program presently focuses on youth ages 8-18 and has five dimensions, all integrated to form a unified project:
- Cultural arts sharing, building pride in creativity and heritage, and teaching strategies to sustain traditions and support performances and exhibitions
- Health education seminars, including HIV/AIDS awareness
- Applied technological skills, focused on computers and the Internet
- Basketball coaches training and youth technique development
- Environmental awareness, including recycling and conservation
The basic strategy of YES is that African boys and girls agree to take classes on the above topics in the morning in exchange for the reward of playing sports and improving their sports skills in the afternoon. This is a model that has been used successfully by many organizations in the U.S. (Boys' and Girls' Clubs, for example) in addition to Africa. YES is a multiethnic, coeducational, sports and leadership development experience. It affords young people the opportunity to develop social and critical thinking skills, meet diverse youth from a variety of cultural, economic and ethnic groups, expand personal horizons and enjoy physical training. Fostering youth and trainer exchanges is an important objective of the project.
YES has already served over 1,500 young African boys and girls. The program operates on a tripartite model, including participation from the private, public and non-profit sectors. Each program has been encouraged to develop some self sustaining programs.
The project builds on work over the last decade by YES (Youth Education and Sports) with Africa, a multiethnic, coeducational, sports and leadership development program administered in conjunction with partner organizations in Africa by the Division of Special Programs & Projects and the Department of Africana Studies at UMass Boston.