Author: Melissa Barber
Happy Tenth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today I give thanks for athleticism and sportsmanship and for all the ways it teaches us diligence, how to work in a team, and the importance of being fit.
Many of you know my diva-licious daughter, Delilah Christina. From the time she was about five or six years old, I knew that she could be the next Olympic runner, had teased her about being the first black woman Olympian swimmer and knew I had to get her into some type of high endurance, physically active sport, considering all the running and jumping around she did on a regular basis. At one of her music lessons, one of the parents suggested that I look into an amazing gymnastics foundation in Harlem that gave opportunities to children, especially those of color, to participate in the sport. I did my research and discovered that the gymnastics foundation also gave scholarships to families so that children can attend.
Although, this gymnastic foundation seemed like the place I wanted my diva to be, I still had to do more investigation. Were they accepting and affirming of children with special needs? How much of a scholarship could Lilah receive to participate? (a sister was po’!) How much were uniforms and materials? When were their classes? Since Delilah was autistic, could I participate in classes with her to make sure that she was learning the routines inside and outside of classes? I would get all of those questions answered in an orientation session that they gave before the start of each gymnastic calendar year. It was in the orientation that I was completely sold about Lilah being there. When I asked if the foundation was an affirming environment for special needs children, one of the first things that the founder said was, “there will be children here with different capacities and/or disabilities, which is a reality in the real world, and every participant and their families will have to deal with it.” (Period! Drop the Mic!)
The gymnastic foundation is the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation and is an absolutely amazing place for children to learn the sport of gymnastics. I am a lucky and proud parent of a former Wendy Hilliard gymnast and proud supporter for life because of their mission to support urban youth in their quest to learn the sport of gymnastics. For the many years that my daughter participated in gymnastics, I saw firsthand how the gymnasts were taught sportsmanship, engaged in a level of physical activity, and drilled with the foundational principles and techniques of gymnastics. The staff was not only made of wonderful people who taught my baby to do cartwheels and gymnastics routines but, they all became part of my and Lilah’s family (for life). The coaches had a work ethic and a level of professionalism that was par excellent. From the very beginning of our years at the foundation, the staff treated Delilah, in spite of her autism, as they did every other gymnast and had a high level of expectation of her that made her want to excel in learning how to be a gymnast.
Three of their staff members (Ms. Joan, Patrice and Sean) were single-handedly responsible for teaching Lilah many of the gymnastics techniques that she learned in the beginning. Later, the entire staff, collectively, volunteered their time to teach Lilah other techniques, recorded routines so that I could teach them to Lilah at home and showed me how to better improve Lilah’s ability to be flexible, build her upper body strength and attempt backbends, bridges as well as do cartwheels. (I was getting a workout every Saturday evening! And those backbends still kick our butts!) They demonstrated a patience to nurture and love my baby and all the gymnasts, while being firm enough to maximize their potentials and see them grow and learn increasingly difficult techniques. I am so proud of who Lilah has become and the knowledge base she has gained from the Wendy Hilliard Foundation. It is very evident that none of the children who participate would be who and where they are without the help of the wonderful staff at this foundation.
I so wish my support system was better. In the latter years, it became increasingly difficult for me to bring her to practices because of work and my other commitments. Additionally, because they no longer had classes in the evening for older students but in the morning when she had her other programs, I made the painful decision to pull her from gymnastics. However, we will always love and support the foundation and the rich legacy that it has, as much as we can. They are forever changing the lives of young Black and Brown people by making a once elite sport readily accessible and available to them.
Of course, as we give thanks for sportsmanship and athleticism, we highlight the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation (https://www.wendyhilliard.org/). Please donate your money to this wonderful organization so that they can provide more scholarships to families who can’t afford to send their children to gymnastics, sponsor students who are going to championship competition or the gymnastic camp.
Love Ya, Have a Great Day of Thanks!