When he started The Young Lions Youth Organization in 1997, Dexter Bryant did not dare to dream how well his charity would flourish and expand over a quarter of a century. The juvenile delinquency prevention organization had humble beginnings. Bryant reminisces about the early days, “As a kid who got in some trouble in my own young years, becoming a dad fundamentally changed my mindset. I wanted better for my own children; that grew into caring for other children as well. We started small, in borrowed spaces with a shoestring budget.” The need, at first, was overwhelming, but the small organization kept growing to help more and more families. His persistent efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2001, Dexter was voted Volunteer of the Year by the Police Athletic League for his work with Tampa’s underserved youth.
Root causes of delinquency include poverty, abuse or neglect, exposure to violence, bullying, and poor academic performance. In addition to education reforms, new laws, and policies, community youth programs have been at the forefront of advocacy and direct service to at-risk youth.
The Interagency Working Group for Youth Programs cites qualities of positive youth development as “intentional, pro-social approaches that engage youth within their communities, schools, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognize, utilize, and enhance youths’ strengths; and promote positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.”
The Young Lions fit that bill and are proud of their record over the years. Comprehensive community programs are having the best success with delinquency prevention. Early intervention and mentoring makes it possible to focus on anti-bullying, social competence, and conflict resolution before kids even start making bad decisions.
Coach Dexter and The Young Lions staff individualize their efforts to reach each child in the most effective ways. Bridgett Greene, Vice President of the Young Lions, recalls a distressed mom asking how to improve her child’s classroom behavior. Bridgett and Dexter attended classes with the student for a week, providing his mother with key information about his behavior. With extra individual attention, the young boy was able to develop more appropriate classroom behaviors.
The Young Lions established annual programs such as their Basketball Camp & All-Star Game, a Back to School Backpack Giveaway, College Tours, and the Christmas Angels provide much-needed assistance to hundreds of Tampa’s inner-city students.
Basketball Camp & All-Star Game
Around Spring Break each year, The Young Lions conduct a high-impact 1-day Basketball & Cheerleading Camp for more than 400 children on the campus of the University of Tampa. Coaches from around Tampa Bay donate their time to work with the kids on their basketball, cheerleading, and life skills. Subsequently, the All Star Game, held at Jefferson High School, features high school seniors who have played basketball for their schools. Scholarships are awarded for academic, arts, and other accomplishments.
At the end of each July, as many as 1500 children receive a brand new backpack filled with school supplies. The Backpack Giveaway helps put low-income students on an even playing field with their more affluent classmates. The program has grown steadily since its inception in 2010. Parents rave about the giveaway, one of them saying, “I do not know what I would have done without The Young Lions. My kids would have gone to their first day of school unprepared.”
A high point of the year is the College Tour. This October, more than 50 children, ages 5 to 18, who participate year round with The Young Lions Organization, will visit Florida A&M University and Florida State University on a 3-day whirlwind trip across the state. One of the highlights of the visit to FSU will be an opportunity to meet the coaches and players of the university’s football team as part of Homecoming festivities.
Young Lions Founder and Executive Director, Dexter Bryant, who has led the annual college tour for more than 10 years, is struck each year with the impact of the program. “We ask these kids to give 110% every day – at home, at school, at church, in athletics. The college tour gives them a lofty goal, demonstrating that a college education is within their reach. The Young Lions supports them every step of the way to achieve those dreams.”
The holidays are a tough time for disadvantaged kids and their families. Never is wealth disparity more on display than during the holidays. The Young Lions Christmas Angels program works to narrow the “gift gap” for Tampa’s inner-city children. With close to 200 families and more than 600 kids to serve, the effort gets off to an early start. As of August, they had already begun collecting bikes and helmets as well as diapers and wipes to give to families with babies.
“We’ve been sending out letters requesting that individuals and companies adopt a child or a few for Christmas,” says Bryant. Each child is given at least 2 toys off the wish list, a pair of PJ’s, tennis shoes, socks, and an outfit. Parents also receive a $50.00 gift card so that they can get something for themselves; Bryant gets emotional explaining that often kids’ only wish is a gift for their mom or dad. To adopt a child or make other donations, CLICK HERE.
Recently, The Young Lions were named recipients of a Nuevo en US grant, funded by Car Credit. The grant is designed to help nonprofits upgrade their marketing efforts and increase their visibility in the market, especially in Spanish language media.
In the jungle of Tampa’s inner city neighborhoods, The Young Lions have quietly ruled the streets with compassion, inspiration, and hope. Their Silver Anniversary is a victory over violence and despair we can all join in celebrating.