There is a united effort underway to introduce and involve more Black youth in the sport of soccer. For Soccer Ventures (FSV) recently announced the Black Star Initiative (BSI), a new program developed to help accelerate the growth of soccer in African American communities and to increase access and opportunity in the sport at the grassroots level, on and off the field.
As part of the program’s launch BSI partnered with Detroit City FC (DCFC) to host a weekend of community-based activities in Detroit at Keyworth Stadium and the Detroit City Fieldhouse in October.
“The goal of the Black Star Initiative is to facilitate every step of the soccer journey for aspiring Black soccer players, coaches and professionals while building community through the celebration and amplification of the diverse Black soccer culture,” said Patrick Rose, director, Black Star Initiative. “Our aim is to introduce more Black Americans to soccer and reduce barriers to youth participation and coaching while engaging the soccer community, Black youth and their parents.”
BSI recognizes the factors which have contributed to the underrepresentation of the Black community in American soccer. It has developed and designed programming aimed to address systemic racism in soccer, provide better access to soccer resources, facilitate educational and professional pathways, increase community awareness and credibility of the sport and inspire kids to play who have not yet been introduced to the game. “As a community richly rooted in Black history, we are excited that For Soccer Ventures is launching the Black Star Initiative in Detroit and with Detroit City FC,” said T.J. Winfrey, chief of partnerships, Detroit City FC. “This is a monumental moment for the city of Detroit and of empowerment and soccer education for our community. Part of our mission at Detroit City FC is to grow soccer in our region and it begins right here in Detroit.”
Founded in 2012, Detroit City FC, a grassroots organization, has established itself as one of the most talked about soccer teams in North America. It’s working to deepen its connection to the Detroit community and build partnerships that promote youth development in soccer.
Soccer is a global sport and one of the top sports in the world, yet Black Americans are under-represented in players, coaching and in business of the sport. This reality is why Winfrey believes the new partnership between BSI and DCFC is critical. “This effort is to really show these Black kids that there are people that look like them in the game, there are people who look like them that teach the game. It creates an aspiration and some sort of visual.”
BSI began its initiative in Detroit and is hoping to spread to other cities across the nation and as it does so, the organization isn’t attempting to replace what soccer programming may already be in place. In Detroit for example, the initiative is amplifying what year-round programming already exists.
Winfrey has been onboard at DCFC for a year, previously he was at Major League Soccer (MLS), and in his current role, he continues to build partnerships that enhance the sport to Black youth in Detroit.
Detroit City FC has recently formed a relationship with Detroit Public Schools Community District and Ally Bank. The financial institution is sponsoring an indoor winter soccer league which will run eight weeks for DPSCD students, free of charge. The opportunity will allow students wo may already be involved in soccer during the warmer months to now be able to play and train year-round.
The collective efforts and partnerships are one way of saying to Black kids and their families that there is a pathway to soccer in America both in recreation and professionally.
The United States along with Mexico and Canada will host the World Cup in 2026 and T.J. sees that moment as an inflection point and hopes to build continued momentum leading to the global event.
T.J.’s vision for what soccer could mean in Detroit is one built on continued partnerships and one that creates positive impact. “My goal is to see kids playing soccer in this city at scale. My ultimate goal is to see Detroit the hub as Black soccer in America. We have the opportunity and population base to do so. When you have scouts looking for Black soccer players and talent, they need to come to Detroit and I see that for us.”