Out of Her Comfort Zone, Sarii Gains the Confidence to Lead

January 14, 2021



As anyone who has spent some time hanging around PeacePlayers Chicago knows, Sarribel (known to her friends and coaches as Sarii) has never been one to back down from a challenge. She joined PeacePlayers in the fall of 2018 as an 8th grader. Since becoming a PeacePlayer, Sarii has made a name for herself on the defensive end of the basketball court. Always seeking out some of the more experienced boys in practice to guard, she’s known for playing very physical defense and making it incredibly difficult for them to get open, let alone score. Not one for many words, Sarii carries herself with a quiet confidence that can be felt by participants and coaches alike.

Maybe that confidence and gamesmanship is a result of Sarii’s background. Although she started at PeacePlayers with almost no experience in playing basketball, she had plenty of experience with other sports, growing up playing soccer, softball, and even boxing. The latter, combined with the fact that she has older brothers, might explain why her coach, PeacePlayers’ Chicago Manager Andrea Johnson, describes her as “tough as nails.” As a multi-sport athlete with limited experience in basketball, Sarii found her comfort playing defense against some of the best players in the program; however she never quite felt comfortable shooting the ball – something her coaches and friends in Chicago knew about her.

Sarii would go game after game without putting up a shot. However, she reached a turning point during her first summer playing with PeacePlayers. In 2019, she was selected to participate in PeacePlayers’ first-ever regional U.S. Friendship Games. This event brought together youth leaders across each of PeacePlayers’ five U.S. sites for a week of on- and off-court leadership and teambuilding in Detroit and Chicago. Sarii took the opportunity to explore new communities and to meet her peers from other PeacePlayers’ programs as they learned from one another to grow as leaders.

Throughout the week, as competitions ensued, Sarii played on various teams mixed with players from new cities. Her teammates did not necessarily know that Sarii only thought of herself as a defensive player and had no interest in shooting the ball. So, when Sarii had an open shot in front of her in one game that week, all of her new teammates were encouraging her to put up the shot. As her coach Andrea looked on, she remembers thinking to herself “Good luck, I’ve been trying to get her to shoot the basketball for months!”

There must have been something unique about this support of other youth from around the country that inspired Sarii in that moment. After a week of building confidence and friendships, coming to understand the similarities and bonds that they all share, regardless of their backgrounds, a switch must have flipped. Sarii felt empowered to shoot the ball. When she made her first basket, and her teammates from Chicago and from around the country went crazy for her, you could truly feel the impact of PeacePlayers’ movement of youth leaders supporting one another.

Sometimes, even the most fearless 8th grade girl needs that extra help, and in that moment, her PeacePlayers teammates provided it to her.

This experience of feeling supported by a group of peers has inspired Sarii to become a role model to others. She is learning what it means to become a leader and to help inspire others in her own community to overcome fear and bridge divides. Upon her return to practice in Chicago, this 14-year-old girl, who never backed down from a challenge, gave herself one more by moving out of her comfort zone.

While she had mostly been known for her quiet demeanor in her early months at PeacePlayers, Sarii has since taken on a new mentality. She has decided to take it upon herself to help out the younger players and encourage them. Her coaches began noticing that she has been doing warm up drills and layup lines with players years younger than herself. She is now routinely seen talking to younger kids, making sure they feel comfortable and confident at practice.

Sarii has also started encouraging other kids from her school to come out to practice and learn what it means to be a part of PeacePlayers. Before practice starts, she can be found pulling some of the newer participants to the side, working on dribbling techniques or shooting drills to help make sure they feel included. Sarii was never asked by her coaches to take on this new role, she has stepped up on her own to make sure others feel included.

In these last few, short months, Sarii has been developing her own self confidence on and off the basketball court to become a leader in her Chicago community. Her coach, Andrea, is very proud of her and how she is now extending her leadership to help bring her peers together from across the community to remove the distrust and fear of differences that exist. She shows that through the power of sport we learn that we are all more alike than we are different.

Before the global pandemic of COVID-19 led to widespread restrictions and lockdowns, in that spirit of community, Sarii, Andrea and others from across the Chicago community gathered at Pullman Community Center to celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy as one of five celebrations happening across the country that weekend. As Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Our PeacePlayers’ MLK weekend events in Chicago and nationwide are an opportunity to remember his life and legacy and recommit ourselves to serve one another and our communities.

Thanks to young leaders like Sarii, other young people can be inspired to reach out and help the people around them, continuing the cycle of positive actions in the community.

Sarii is just one example of why we cannot help but be inspired by so many of our PeacePlayers’ young leaders around the country, showing that they can do their part to make an impact on the world around them.

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