Former college basketball player uses 'S.O.U.L.' to keep kids engaged in school

"Coach" Donald Curtis and a S.O.U.L. participant. (WJLA photo)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – A local former college basketball player, who caught a couple of breaks in life before making it himself, is paying it forward in his own way.

Donald Curtis has been involved with D.C.’s low-income youth for five years. Now, he has started a nonprofit organization that uses basketball to engage them in school and inspire them to reach higher.

Four days a week, you’ll see “Coach” Curtis, as the boys call him, playing basketball at the Richard England Boys and Girls Clubhouse in Northeast D.C. But it’s more than just playing ball. It’s part of a program Curtis started in 2013 call S.O.U.L.: Students Organized to Understand Leadership. It targets youth in low-income neighborhoods in D.C.’s Ward 7.

“For me, basketball’s a tool to engage kids,” Curtis said.

The goal is to engage them to focus not just on the basketball court, but also in school, by providing one-on-one tutoring. Mainly, it’s about being someone who cares.

“To me, it’s letting the kids know that people see you, it’s like you mean something to somebody, you mean something to me,” Curtis said.

It’s a message that’s making an impact on the boys.

“He help me in school and he help me, like, I mean, whenever I need help—‘cause I have his number—so, whenever I need help, then I can just call him,” said 14-year-old Montavious Augburn.

“When we messed up, or something like that, he’ll tell us to get back on track,” added 15-year-old David Georg.

“He tell us if we can’t do good at school, what makes us think we can do good on the court?” said 13-year-old Marquese Byrd. “Without school, you can’t go to the NBA.”

Curtis credits a basketball coach he had in high school with making a difference in his life. Now, it’s his turn to be the mentor.

“When I look at the kids, I see a positive future; I see where they can go,” Curtis said. “I think I see things in them they don’t see in themselves right now.”

Curtis now devotes all his time to S.O.U.L. and the youngsters. In a little over a year, he has seen his program grow from six to 65 youths. He hopes to expand his programs to work with more children in the future.

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