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Rise Above, Indigenous nonprofit, gears up for second annual sports and wellness clinic

July 5, 2022 Updated Fri., July 8, 2022 at 10:32 p.m.

Coach Donald Watts, center, organizes the activities for the campers at the 2021 Rise Above basketball camp at the Hub Sports Center in Liberty Lake. The program focuses on Native youth and is free for them to attend. Watts is the son of NBA great Donald “Slick” Watts.  (Jordan Tolley-Turner/THE SPOKESM)
Coach Donald Watts, center, organizes the activities for the campers at the 2021 Rise Above basketball camp at the Hub Sports Center in Liberty Lake. The program focuses on Native youth and is free for them to attend. Watts is the son of NBA great Donald “Slick” Watts. (Jordan Tolley-Turner/THE SPOKESM)

For Nez Perce member Jaci McCormack, time is flying.

It’s already been a year since the inaugural Rise Above sports clinic, which hosted over 100 Indigenous children in the name of their wellness and health.

“For me personally, (it taught me) the importance of really being true to your mission and who you’re providing services to and what your mission really stands for,” McCormack said. “Seeing those kids’ faces lighting up, that, for me, is why we did it and why we’re there.”

McCormack is gathering celebrities, tribal leaders and athletes once again to tackle the task of encouraging Indigenous children to grow beyond their circumstances in the second annual Rise Above sports clinic. On Monday, this year’s Rise Above clinic will be held at Rogers High School and will take place from 12 to 3 p.m.

“When kids are in a safe environment and they feel safe, and they have people around them that look like them that come from where they come from and are able to have those conversations, we have these information conversations and dialogues throughout the clinic that make an impact.” McCormack said.

McCormack created Rise Above to address the harsh truths of Indigenous life through peer mentoring, education, prevention skills and the sports clinic. The clinic looks to dissect all aspects of healthy living and implement lifestyle choices that will stick with the kids beyond the clinic.

Along with emphasizing the importance of keeping kids active, building community and fighting the historical odds against them are other facets of Rise Above. In 2019, a National Indian Education Study found that Native Americans are 35% less likely to pursue higher education than their white counterparts.

The Urban Institute found that Indigenous children are 46% more likely to experience homelessness. Diabetes, obesity, and alcohol and drug abuse are higher within Indigenous communities.

The Rise Above clinic softens the conversation around those statistics, while implementing healthy living practices. While the children cool down their bodies from exercise, clinic leaders talk to them about the importance of mental health and abstaining from drugs and violence.

“Our message is that we’re trying to change our narratives for the kids,” McCormack said. “We’re creating these safe spaces and seeing representation in these different fields. Whether it’s athletically or in the art or music spaces.

“Being able to connect our kids with local resources of where they’re at, that’s the important work of making sure they know where to go in their own communities.” McCormack added.

McCormack also expressed the importance of having only Indigenous athletes lead the clinic workouts as it gives the kids “a chance to see what could be.”

“Once they see themselves in them, they know it’s possible to do those things and dream bigger dreams,” McCormack said. “For us, it’s all about hope and creating safe spaces for our kids to not only see these people in these roles … but also creating safe spaces were kids are able to reach out and come to us, our program and our coaches for guidance, support, and encouragement.”

The basketball exercises will be lead by Freddy Brown III of the Makah tribe, who played for the Montana Grizzlies before transferring to Central Washington, and Navajo tribal member Analyss Benally, who just finished her first year of international women’s basketball in Romania.

Noah Hotchkiss, a descendant of the South Ute, South Cheyenne and Caddo tribes, will guide the basketball clinics along with Brown and Benally. Hotchkiss is a tribal adaptive athlete and University of Illinois graduate who participated on the university’s wheelchair basketball team.

Wei Wai Kum First Nation member Emoni Bush and Jeff Ross, descendant of the English River First Nation, will team up for the volleyball clinics. Ross is the head coach of Douglas College’s volleyball team. Bush is an outside header for the University of Washington’s volleyball team and recently represented Team Canada at the Junior Pan Am Games in Mexico.

Leaders from the Kalispel Tribe and Yakama Nation will also be in attendance. McCormack stressed the importance of having Indigenous leaders and athletes be part of the program as they serve as a beacon of light, hope and opportunity to the children attending the event.

Along with the Indigenous community, celebrities will also be at the Rise Above clinic. NBA stars such as Lenny Wilkens, Spencer Haywood, Dale Ellis, Craig Ehlo and Detlef Schrempf will make appearances.

Olympians Ruthie Bolton, Carla McGhee and Venus Lacy, teammates on the star-studded 1996 USA Olympic team, will be in attendance as well. This is one of their first appearances after the debut of their ESPN 30-for-30 special about the Olympic run.

Legendary actor Danny Glover is returning to the Rise Above clinic this year, along with Grammy winners Portugal. The Man. Levi Horn, a Spokane native and former offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, will be in attendance. Horn, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, joined the Rogers’ faculty and worked as a correspondent for Nike’s N7 program for Native American communities.

For McCormack, the clinic is just one facet of the nonprofit that is Rise Above. However, she is excited to see all the helping hands of the community part of the mission that Rise Above stands for.

“If you told me that when we founded Rise Above that we’d have Danny Glover and Coach Wilkens, members of the ’96 women’s Dream Team in Spokane, I wouldn’t have believed you,” McCormack said. “What’s so special about the partners we’ve attracted is their belief in the mission of Rise Above.”

Amber D. Dodd's work as the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Inequity reporter for Eastern Washington and North Idaho primarily appears in both The Spokesman-Review and The Black Lens newspapers, and is funded in part by the Michael Conley Charitable Fund, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, the Innovia Foundation and other local donors from across our community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.

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