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Finding salvation in cheerleading
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Finding salvation in cheerleading

In high school, cheerleading was Stephen McCubbin’s favourite activity. It saved him from getting caught up in violence in his home country of Jamaica. Now, he’s using it as a tool to help young people feel valued and respected. Commonwealth Correspondent Jhannel Tomlinson, 27, from Kingston, Jamaica, spoke to Stephen– a finalist in this year’s Commonwealth Youth Awards– about Cheer Sensation JA, a non-profit organisation which enhances young people’s athletic skills.

Growing up in a volatile community in Jacques Road, Jamaica was not an easy feat for Stephen. Being raised by a mother with limited access to financial resources was especially difficult. It also contributed to his disruptive behaviour during his teen years.

Stephen saw himself heading down the wrong path. “There were so many days when I would aspire to have a meaningful death, rather than a meaningful life,” he said.

Some members of his family were involved violence in the community. He ultimately decided that he needed to make a change.

“I wanted to change the perception associated with my family name and forge a new legacy.  I wanted to do better than those who came before me,” said Stephen.

Thankfully, Stephen found his salvation in cheerleading. He recalls that it felt like home and helped him to excel in ways he had never imagined he could. Having gone through this transformation because of cheerleading, he wanted to give back to others who were from similar backgrounds. This  led to the birth of Cheer Sensation.  

Starting off as a cheerleading team for troubled young people, Cheer Sensation JA has grown into a thriving non-profit organisation. Many of the initial members are now coaches who travel across the region and pass on these skills to children and young people who live in volatile communities.

His most memorable experience since starting the initiative was hosting a workshop that brought together young people from different backgrounds. One of the young boys attending the workshop asked whether one of his peer’s parents was engaged in illegal activities because they could afford certain things.

In response, Stephen invited the parent to speak to the youngster about his job as an attorney, which resulted in the boy aspiring to become an attorney in the future so that he could help his family without having to turn to illicit activities.

“It is important to expose these children to alternate realities and opportunities to see a life outside their violent communities.”

“It was such a pure and profound interaction and it reminded me just how important it is to expose these children to alternate realities and opportunities to see a life outside their violent communities,” Stephen said.

Through its cheerleading programmes and competitions, Cheer Sensation JA provides a safe space for children and adults to become physically active whilst working as a violence prevention tool in volatile communities in Jamaica. Stephen’s work has enabled him to attract international cheerleading bodies to Jamaica to provide technical support to the organisation, further increasing awareness and support for the sport.

While he considers himself an advocate for youth empowerment, Stephen says it is important for young people to use their own voices to pull themselves out of desperate situations.

What advice would he give his 15-year-old self? “Slow down. Nothing happens before its time.”

He would also tell himself that he has the capability to overcome all obstacles, and that he should pay more attention in school and be more supportive to his mother.  

 “Stand up and speak out. Life is so much more and there is hope. There is real hope,” said Stephen.

Stephen was nominated for his work towards Sustainable Development Goal 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Photo credit: Main image by 272447 from Pixabay

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The Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work highlight the contributions of young people who are making a difference in their communities and celebrate their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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About me: I am an MPhil/PhD student whose thesis seeks to understand the prospects and challenges for the promotion of climate smart agriculture in Jamaica. My general research interests include climate change with specific interests in dissemination of climate information, sustainable development, food security and youth development. I have been involved in projects and organisations premised on the environment and its preservation. It is my goal to become a rural development professional.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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