Building Pitches, Building Bridges
Imagination lies at the root of all meaningful community work. The Black Women’s Player Collective came to be because Black women in the NWSL wanted tangible support for themselves, for each other, and for those coming after them. In January, they took another step toward building the things of their collective imagination.
The BWPC has announced a partnership with Black Players for Change (BPC), a group of players, coaches, and staff of MLS, to install several mini-pitches in the U.S. Back in September 2020, the BPC joined with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Musco Lighting, and Adidas to create 12 mini-pitches honoring the 12 founding board members of the BPC. The collaboration aims to address the systemic lack of resources that keeps Black youth from playing the game. The BPC and the BWPC's involvement bolsters an ongoing project at the U.S. Soccer Foundation to create hundreds of mini-pitches across the country.
To Quincy Amarikwa, one of the founders of the BPC, this partnership is the first step in “creating real, tangible assets, invested in local communities to serve as a launching pad for future investment, creating dividends of impact over the long term.” Investing in communities from the ground up is essential to creating meaningful change. By focusing on creating places to play, the mini-pitch project goes farther than youth development aimed directly toward the club or national team level. It invests in communities so that regardless of the length or intensity of their relationship to soccer, kids have a safe place to play.
In its grassroots understanding of the role of sports in young people’s lives, the mini-pitch project demonstrates an appreciation for youth sports outside of career aspirations. Having a safe place to play means that kids can get the advantages of participating in sports in their own communities, fostering connections that bolster youth development across the board.
The collaboration between the BWPC and BPC is an exciting development for the future of both organizations. Back in November, Lynn Williams spoke about organizing within the NWSL. “I think that, unlike the WNBA, when they want to mobilize, everyone is just kind of on board, and they don’t have to convince their teammates that this is an issue. Whereas because the Black [NWSL] voice I think is smaller – not in loudness but just in size – that it was really hard, or it’s really hard, to convince people who don’t believe that this is a real issue that’s going on.” A partnership with the BPC strengthens that voice and amplifies the support that Black soccer players--in the NWSL, MLS, or otherwise--have at their disposal. The very act of building that bridge is exciting.
Last week, Midge Purce spoke to Jordan Angeli and Charlie Davies on the U.S. Soccer Podcast about the BWPC’s plans for the mini-pitch project. “We have a lot of programming that we’re designing right now. We’re working with Voice in Sport to provide direct mentorship with people in the BWPC, and I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way we can target the kids that are around these mini-pitches so we can make an even bigger impact with them and have a more lasting relationship.” This plan to stay engaged with the communities around the mini-pitches turns the project into a lasting bridge between local communities and the women of the NWSL, providing role models and meaningful mentorship beyond an isolated event or appearance. These ties to the community embody the best of what this league can offer.
The mentorship, though created through a connection to soccer, will extend far beyond the sport. The BWPC hopes that through its members' connections and experiences, it can help girls gain access to all kinds of industries.
Purce also spoke about the intersectionality of being a Black woman in sports, and how the BWPC hopes to keep that at the center of its collaboration on the mini-pitch project. “We expressed to them, there’s this intersectionality of difficulty when you consider gender and race, and it’s really important to us that we have exclusive pitches that are kind of designed for girls.” It’s exciting to see the nuance possible in this broader project, which could only be achieved through the voices of the women in the BWPC. No identity exists in a vacuum, and these efforts to honor the intersections these women live in every day are important in acknowledging the struggle and illuminating the excellence of the Black women in this league.
Purce continued, “As a grown woman, I have trouble going to fields where there are guys who are trying to move my cones and push me aside. So I can’t imagine what it’s like,” she paused, “I mean I can, I’ve done it, but we’re trying to create some spaces that are good for girls as well, where you feel like this is your space, and sport is completely accessible to you, and you don’t have to worry about someone moving your cones or kicking you off or making you feel like you don’t belong here. The BPC have been so receptive to that.”
The first two pitches from this partnership have been installed at R.H. Dana Middle School in Hawthorne, CA, and the Clairemont Branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego. This project is just a first step in the exciting work to come for the BWPC. When asked how people could support this work, Purce had two requests: donate and engage. She hinted at future programming in the works, but in the meantime, people can amplify and engage with the work this group is already doing. For Black History Month, check out BWPC's social media for daily posts highlighting Black history, unfiltered.