Even a few months away from working with kids was too long for Shawn Lemmon.
The 34-year-old Baltimore resident had left AZIZA PE&CE, a non-profit that uses fashion and the arts to help develop young people ages 14-24, in September, 2019 to focus on raising her newborn son and gear up for a new challenge in her life.
Shawn founded AZIZA PE&CE in 2009 and helping youth became her passion, one that she realized she needed to get back to. PeacePlayers became the vehicle to again do the kind of work she loved and with the young people she had always felt connected with.
“It was a long time away from kids,” said Lemmon, who started as a PeacePlayers coach in August, 2020. “Joining PeacePlayers kind of got me back to my happy place because I’m able to communicate with the youth and especially outside of leaving my non-profit where I worked for over 10 years. Being a mother to my son for a whole year, and being away from kids on a regular basis. I think that this is a personal opportunity for me to jump back.”
Shawn is one of 4 coaches who meets with kids twice a week, once at Baltimore’s Oliver Community Center and another during a virtual meeting that was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The work she did at AZIZA PE&CE would occasionally involve physical activity but it wasn’t the main focus.
Having played basketball in high school and college, PeacePlayers was a perfect fit for Shawn.
“I was just really interested in working with them because it was similar to what I’ve been doing for about 10 years,” she said. “Because I love playing basketball. It was a perfect opportunity to jump back in to help supporting and cultivating our youth as well as doing something I love.”
“PeacePlayers was a perfect opportunity for that, as well as to work with people like (Director of PeacePlayers Baltimore) LaToya Fisher. I’m very spiritual when it comes to being around good energy and positive people. I think we kind of hit it on the nose with that. So that’s one of the reasons why I was interested in joining.”
Finding experienced coaches who understand the needs of at-risk youth is essential to building a strong program. Shawn’s previous experience with youth coupled with growing up in the area has already proven to be a huge asset. Shawn arrived at Oliver recently and found one of the male participants outside the facility with tears on his face.
The problem was a typical one — some kids had been making fun of him, he shared with Shawn. The approach she took was to be empathetic, show understanding, listen to what the boy had to say and, perhaps most importantly, give him time to come to terms with what he was feeling.
Shawn sat with the boy for as long as he needed, then went about talking to other kids in the program without giving away that the boy had confided in her. The ensuing group conversation was a testament to the kids’ desire to make things right, and Shawn’s ability in a short period of time to gain the trust of all the young people.
“The boy joined me back in the building, joined in a circle, had an open conversation about bullying and how it makes people feel and how we feel when we are bullied,” Shawn said. “That kind of made me feel really good, especially because I hadn’t been part of the class for very long. So that really showed me my importance of being there and being a part of PeacePlayers as well.”
The need to respect COVID-19 protocols is something Shawn understands and supports. Virtual sessions offer opportunities for kids to be in their home environment, which can be calming and bring about more honesty and openness.
But all things being equal, nothing is better than working face to face with the kids whose lives you’re trying to change.
“I’m very, very anxious, to get all of this over with,” Shawn said. I think it’ll allow myself and my partners to recruit more kids and just connect with more kids and have more conversations with getting back to normal. And I wouldn’t even say get back to normal, I would say just to start a new thing, start a new phase of the way we do things.
“Because with the pandemic we have been able to see how we’re able to maneuver things differently, how we’re able to learn things differently and cultivate things that will allow us to have new opportunities to do different things in a better way. I’m very interested just to get back out there and just to be able to do things in the community.”