“These young people they just need love – give them hope – give them opportunities… they will change.”
It was no ordinary jersey presentation at Dandenong Basketball Stadium earlier this week.
Your everyday domestic club wouldn’t have three MPs – Bruce Atkinson MP, Gabrielle Williams MP, Luke Donnellan MP – attend that night. Or high ranking members of Victoria Police and the Victorian judicial branch. Consular official Trent Smyth. The City of Greater Dandenong mayor Jim Memeti and other councillors. Basketball Australia chairman Ned Coten.
Or Dandenong Basketball Association CEO Graeme Allen and Melbourne United CEO Vince Crivelli.
All eagerly awaiting a jersey presentation on a cold Tuesday evening in Dandenong.
No… something much bigger was underway.
Black Rhinos Basketball Club is stands out from your usual domestic team for all the right reasons.
It is the brainchild of Afri-Aus Care founder Selba Luka, Jamy Alex and other founding Black Rhinos who saw the need to give Dandenong’s youth the strongest possible foundation.
Helping the youth from African and other migrant communities is their priority. To encourage the players to improve their lives and the community as a whole at the same time – through a wonderful all-encompassing conduit… basketball.
Connecting community improvement and sport is the winning move the Black Rhinos seek to use as they teach their players to be their best in all aspects of life – not just as a player or a team member.
After emigrating from Malawi, Luka has been at the forefront with troubled African teens as she took it upon herself to help fellow migrants navigate the legal system once they had erred.
But she thought there was a better way.
A kid who has a positive environment, a supportive team and friends around them is less likely to end up before a magistrate.
From there – through sheer force of will – she’s managed to get the pieces in place for the Black Rhinos. They’re set to take to the court over the weekend for their first tournament, but their greatest victories probably won’t be on court.
It will be in the hope they provide young African-Australian children.
The manner in which they deservedly thrive and flourish in life on and off the court.
And that’s no simple task – but Luka isn’t going to stop for anything.
“It’s not easy at all – if they’re not given the love and opportunities it creates so many problems that we see,” Luka said. “People can change – what are you seeing outside there before (on the Dandenong courts) – it’s kids that are willing to change.”
This simple idea – give them sanctuary from the worst elements of their lives and their communities – is gaining traction. From 15 players in their first session to the 60 who now proudly call themselves Black Rhinos, it’s an incredible increase so quickly as the side looks towards its first tournament this week.
Basketball Victoria is a proud partner of Afri-Aus Care and the Black Rhinos program and Strategic Operations Manager Karen Pearce believes it will have wide reaching impact well beyond the stadium.
“We are proud to be associated with Afri-Aus Care and are committed to using basketball as the conduit to increasing social connectivity and physical health and wellbeing outcomes for at-risk African and other migrant youth,” Pearce said. “This program – in partnership with Dandenong Basketball Association – it goes way beyond being simply about basketball.
“We will use our sport as a distraction technique to gently steer the participants into an environment that is safe, inclusive and supportive: one that will empower the individual to develop greater quality of life outcomes and positive community integration simply by being involved.”
Gabrielle Williams MP – the Victorian member for Dandenong – has seen first-hand what can be achieved in the positive space that sport can provide.
For her this club is the start of a huge leap ahead for inclusivity and giving her constituents – some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged – a better chance at staying on the straight and narrow.
“There’s no more fitting place in Victoria for the launch of both Black Rhinos – and the support that sits around it – than Dandenong, the multicultural capital of Victoria,” Williams said. “This initiative is a great outlet for young people to come together, to be active and organised in sport – and as someone who grew up playing sport, I’d have to say it taught me a lot about life.
“It’s not just participation, fun and relationships – but it’s also discipline, learning not to let your team mates down, there are a lot of life lessons to be learned in sport and I can see why it’s a great vehicle to engage young people – especially those who may have become disengaged.”
Dandenong Basketball Association CEO Graeme Allen has been behind the Black Rhinos cause since day one – helping find the club court-space and getting some elite Rangers’ players to help out with practice sessions to spearhead the Rhinos’ development.
“It was a great opportunity to have the Black Rhinos join us here – we’re able to find a time on a Tuesday night and on that first night there were 15 kids here and that was really satisfying,” Allen said. “Came back the next week it was 25-30… and now we’re up to 60.
“But what’s so special for me is that it’s not just those kids who are 15-16 years old; it’s that they’re bringing their younger siblings – there are kids who are 8-9-10 years old, getting involved in basketball and learning other disciplines in life.
“From Dandenong Basketball’s point of view – we’re thrilled with that. We provide additional services – educate their coaches on what it takes to become better coaches, we’ve got three of our elite players working with them every Tuesday night and teaching them the skills of basketball.”
For more information on Black Rhinos Basketball Club – contact Afri-Aus Care at http://afri-auscare.org.