On Thursday August 19, 2021 we will be announcing our Agenda To Transform Youth Sports, a platform we hope creates an opportunity for more collaboration with leaders like Alicia to make sport, healing for all youth everywhere. Join us by signing up to learn more in a city near you.
Alicia Gonzalez knew early on that sport had the potential to be a very powerful tool for community, if it was done well.
Gonzalez grew up in Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Italy neighborhoods, both predominantly Mexican American at the time. Her mother was an academic activist at the University of Illinois Chicago, and her father a community activist and artist.
“My mom was able to take me out of Pilsen and could afford to put me in programs at UIC campus and gymnastics and swim classes in another part of town,” Gonzalez said, “and I told my dad, ‘It’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have to go outside of my neighborhood and go play sports and our neighbors can’t.”
Alicia’s dad gave her a task that day.
“He said to me, ‘Mija,’ which means little daughter in Spanish, he said, ‘Mija, well do something about it’ and I said I would.”
This early recognition of the inequities that Black and Brown people face in arenas such as sports and healthcare was the beginning of Gonzalez’ passion for the transformative work of youth development combined with community activism.
She currently serves as the Executive Director of Cubs Charities, a Chicago Cubs nonprofit that uses sports-based youth development and academic programming to champion youth, families and communities.
Alicia is no stranger to the grind of boots-on-the-ground nonprofit work, however. When she returned to Chicago after college, she launched a nonprofit, Chicago Run, which she grew from one employee serving 2,000 kids in a pilot program to serving 18,000 kids in 55 Chicago Public Schools.
Chicago Run programming gives young people K-12 equitable access to running and physical activity programs, helping them build resilience to stress and trauma.
Gonzalez has fond memories of seeing sports transform and heal in a very real way.
“My last practice with the kids [at Chicago Run] was at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. I was running with one of the young men in the program and I said, ‘Why did you decide to join Running Mates?’ which was the name of the program. He said, ‘Well, you know, what I was doing obviously wasn’t working so I’m going to try something new here.’”
Even with all of her accomplishments, Gonzalez said a key factor to being legendary is prioritizing teamwork.
“What’s so incredibly important,” Gonzalez said, “is to be collaborative and be willing to listen to the boots on the ground and what’s really happening and form a united front with the other organizations that are doing this work.”
We’re glad to have everyday legends like Alicia who are using sports to build stronger communities because they know that nothing heals like sport.