Last weekend, MSR columnist Charles Hallman and myself embarked on a journey to Hamline University for a story about the I AM GIFTED Football and Life Skills camp—for youth grades 1-12—brought to the Twin Cities by Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison.
On the way to Hamline, we made a deal. Charles would write the story. I would take the pictures. I set up the interviews with parents of camp participants as my colleague worked his magic.
There was one problem. Hallman called me the following morning indicating that he had no room for the interviews in his story. So I decided to write a column that includes the quotes.
The parents had plenty to say about the importance of the camp.
“I think it’s important to be involved in sports for our youth, especially right now,” said Gina Sullivan, a juvenile corrections officer who brought son Tyeton to the camp. “I think that it’s just important to get our kids involved in organizational sports to keep them busy and to do things that are constructive.”
Monica Johnson, a longtime educator in St. Paul, brought her son Antoine to the camp to learn about lifelong skills. “I would like for him to see how cooperatively working together can accomplish a goal,” Johnson said. “I want him to see successful African American men. I look forward to him having fun, making connections.”
Danny Jackson, whose sons Danny Jr., Amir, and nephew Taylor were participants, wants them to stay active. “For me it’s just the structure and activity.
“I like to keep my children active. It builds character,” he said. “We didn’t have this growing up, so I like to give him a lot of exposure to different camps, meeting new children, building relationships, all those things I think are important.”
There were a few former prep student-athletes who made sure their sons experienced the camp. Rikiee Ellis starred in basketball at St. Paul Central in the early 2000s. She’s just happy her son Adam Jr. and others were able to participate.
“I’m really excited that they have this opportunity for students and it’s free,” she expressed. “It’s a great way to get the kids out here.”
Former St. Paul Central basketball standout Jason Jett wanted this experience to be part of his son Jackson’s growth. “I just want him to learn some discipline, just learn to be a young man,” he said.
“I just want to see him grow up to be a successful young man, mentor to some of the younger ones, leader in the community, and be positive.”
Thomas Brown brought his son Preston to the camp. The former St. Paul Como Park basketball standout talked about staying positive and giving back. “It’s about keeping them with a positive mindset to let them know that they can do anything they want when they see professional athletes out here that are giving back to the community.”
Former St. Paul Central football and basketball standout Alan Langford wanted his sons Alan Jr. and grandson Devin to experience something new. “I’m just hoping to get them to interact with some different kids.”
Dana Abrams, director of the Office of Family Engagement and Community for St. Paul Public Schools, teamed with Mattison to set up the free day camp. She expressed her impressions of having the camp as she sat with Alexander Mattison’s mother Pearl Mattison and wife Andrea Mattison.
“One thing I see coming out of this day-long football camp is opportunity, opportunity for students in the inner city that would never have the opportunity to actually be on the field with a professional football player that’s using his talents as a hook to help them in the areas of leadership, supporting mental health, understanding NCAA guidelines, social justice,” she said. “So, it’s more than just football.”
In an interview with KSTP Eyewitness News days before the camp, Alexander Mattison emphasized that football wasn’t the only focus. “It’s more than just a football camp, he said. “It’s not just about stuff you learn on the field but the stuff that you can take in life.”
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.