A dozen Latino teenagers are running up the terraces at Malcolm X Park in Northwest D.C. on a weekday afternoon. The thermometer is hovering near 100 degrees, but the youth don’t appear to mind. The young men encourage one another to do the stairs faster and harder, to build up stamina and leg strength.
Some of these youths have been involved in rival Latino gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 — a rivalry that in Central America and even the metro D.C. region can lead to violence or death, says Josue Salmeron, Deputy Director at Collaborative Solutions for Communities.
“It’s tough — there are some kids that have rivalries
that they don’t understand … it’s multigenerational, they inherited the rivalry from someone else,” he says.
For now, though, they’re on the same soccer team, the DC Cosmos, the heart of a city-supported after school diversion program that CSC has run since 2006.
“They’re willing to look the other way in some things, to disregard the territory that other individuals are coming from or what they represent,” Salmeron says. “And they want to play together because they love the sport that much.”
Hard work has been the team’s greatest resource so far. It’s about to get some help, though.
This week the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) awarded CSC a grant worth as much as $50,000 to help expand the program. It’s not only a crucial windfall for the team — it also represents a new approach by the bank, which has has been handing out annual micro-grants of several thousand dollars since the late 1990s to Latino and Caribbean groups in the city.