Skip to Main content
In this Section

Recent grad makes big difference with disadvantaged youth

Jul 31, 2009
by Liz Daube, '05

He’s only 24, but alumnus Justin Black has already spent four years transforming St. Augustine’s Boys & Girls Club.

“We’ve done a 180,” he said. “When I first got here there was a fight almost every day … I’ve had people threaten to shoot me. I’ve had kids take a swing at me.”

Fights are rare now. The 2007 Flagler graduate said the club currently has the highest rate of teen participation in the area, and the kids often see him as “one of their own.” Those changes might not have been possible, Black said, if he wasn’t good at basketball.

“In the beginning, that was my way of getting respect,” he said. “I was just really lucky that I was good at it.

“The frustrating thing was them not listening to me … the older kids wait to see who you are and if you’re real. It took them a little while to see that I was going to stick around … That’s how I knew I had to be here – because I knew I could change the atmosphere.”

Black started working at the Boys & Girls Club in 2005, when he was studying sports management and business administration at Flagler. In just a few years, he advanced from a part-time job as sports director to a career in the local club’s highest position: unit director.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida have honored Black for his commitment to the non-profit organization, and he’s recently been named a “Most Valued Professional” and chairman of the regional chapter of the group’s professional association. Black oversees a variety of activities at the club, including sports, leadership training, community service and teen discussion groups that address issues like drugs and puberty.

“Prevention works,” Black said, adding that the Department of Justice has provided grants to the Boys & Girls Club because their programs help high-risk youth stay away from crime and gang violence. “I love what we can do with kids, and I see the impact every day.”

Because administrative tasks sometimes keep him behind a desk, he puts in extra time to make sure he interacts with the 50 to 80 children who come in for afterschool programs each day; he attends school plays, sports games and special weekend events.

The St. Augustine club keeps receiving good news. The program is preparing to move into a new facility on West King Street that will have about 15 times more space, and 17-year-old Renita Greene recently won the Youth of the Year Award from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida. Black and his wife, Shelli, have mentored the young woman for several years, and in 2008 the Department of Children and Families placed Greene and her 13-year-old sister, Erica, in the Blacks’ home.

Black said his professors at Flagler helped him prepare for his current roles in a variety of ways, but classes like “Sport Ethics” and “Sociology & Sport” were among his favorites.

“It makes sense that that’s what I liked,” he said. “[In my position,] you’re dealing with real issues that will test your ethics and morals.”

By learning about various socioeconomic backgrounds and how they apply to sports, Black said, he saw how coaches have to take different approaches when handling “a team out in the projects, versus out on the beach.”

Ultimately, Black said, truly caring about the children he meets has been the key to helping them.

“Kids learn from the adults in their lives, what they see and what they’re surrounded by,” he said. “They need somewhere to go to develop self worth and that sense of belonging … This is not so much as a job as it is a calling.”

Tagged As