From New York 1:
Already a handball player since he was little, Christian Guzman met Jasmine Ray at a tournament three years ago.
That is when he got involved with the United States Wall Ball Association. It has given him experiences he did not think were possible.
“I worked with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. She gave me a personal internship. I was his personal assistant. And I never thought I’d have the opportunity until I met Jasmine,” said Guzman.
The Stapleton native started the nonprofit in 2010, the year after her 16-year-old brother Johnathan died in a car accident.
Looking for a way to honor him, she held a Handball tournament, a sport they used to play together.
Surprised by the large turnout, she recognized a need she could fill.
“I didn’t realize how popular it was until I had all these kids and I said, ‘Why isn’t anybody doing anything for the sport?’ There are over 2000 handball courts. They’re strategically placed in a lot of lower income neighborhoods, so it’s a sport that’s accessible to people,” Ray stated.
Now, more than 1700 kids participate in Ray’s tournaments held all over the city. Each have a different theme, from Anti-Violence with the NYPD to Financial Literacy with TD Bank.
Ray says she runs a tight ship and does not tolerate disrespect or cursing on the court, and that behavior continues off the courts as well.
“They used to get on the court and disrespect each other. They used to fight. Some of them were even from rivalling gangs. So when they come on the court, they’re friends. And what that actually transitioned to was a friendship outside of the courts.”
That’s exactly Ray’s goal, to change lives through the sport.
It is one I’d never played, but quickly got the hang of – sort of.
Ray says Wall Ball has taken her and her kids all over the globe, to places she’d never even imagined, including China, where she’s manufacturing her own ball.
For such good to come out of such grief, Ray says she’s compelled to pay it forward.
“I figured, inspire people in his age group. Try to divert them from another tragedy,” Ray shared.