In June 2017 I returned to Trinidad and Tobago to play in a charity game with some of my former national teammates. The game was to be hosted by the T&T Police Service through their community outreach arm, The Hearts and Minds Foundation. The opponents would be a team made up of aspiring young players from some of the country’s most challenged communities. A tropical storm meant the game had to be canceled. The cancellation afforded us an opportunity to speak with the kids, share our stories, and hear theirs. Their dreams were exactly the same as those you’d hear from any boy or girl anywhere. Their challenges, however, were not. Their stories of growing up with the threats that come with living in those communities were startling and heartbreaking. I was left in tears.
I had taken with me two sets of girls’ uniforms kindly donated by my good friend Steve Coxon of Connecticut Football Club. On presenting them to the officers of The Heart and Minds Foundation they expressed a gratitude I didn’t anticipate. The two sets of uniforms would be used to start their first girls’ league. They told me they had noticed a significant decrease in crime when there were community activities going on. A girls’ league would give the aspiring girls in the community an opportunity they never had and just as importantly give the communities another outlet. I left there vowing to help, not quite knowing how.
On my return to the US, I shared some of these moving stories of my trip with both Steve and Jason Dewhurst of FC Stars of Massachusetts. They both agreed to host equipment drives at their respective clubs. The response and outpouring of support from the families at both clubs overwhelmed me emotionally. The collected donations allowed Hearts and Minds and me to deliver on their promises, and to go even further in visiting with and supporting a number of other clubs who also serve other in-need communities.
Soccer has always been my guiding light. Playing soccer kept me out of trouble. It taught me the value of friendships and the importance of teamwork. It is through this game that I was able to find my own confidence, find my own purpose. My hope is that we can equip and inspire other boys and girls to find theirs.
~ Shaka Hislop, former professional soccer player, Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team player and captain, current ESPN soccer analyst.