One America - Flames

Program: Flames, Brooklyn, NY
Contact(s): Gerard J. Papa, Founder: (718) 236-6100
Purpose: To provide a structured environment that brings together young people of diverse economic backgrounds to promote their development as responsible members of a diverse society

Background Program Operations Outcomes


In the mid-1970s, the white neighborhood of Bensonhurst, located in Brooklyn, New York, was sharply segregated from the black and Latino population of adjacent Coney Island. In 1974, the community started the Flames Neighborhood Youth Association, which featured a basketball team comprised of white youth from the neighborhood. By 1975, there were two basketball teams, with both white and black youth. In 1976, Flames evolved into a volunteer nonprofit organization that works with young people in Bensonhurst to improve race relations.

Program Operations

Flames does more than run basketball teams and leagues. It brings together diverse people to focus on a common cause, fosters team building across racial lines, and provides participants with a safe haven to work out personal differences. The best Flames players are required to volunteer as coaches and referees for designated hours throughout the week. Game schedules are designed to increase interracial exposure both on and off the court. Through the these group interactions, youth learn to work with each other.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

Flames now runs the largest interracial youth program of its kind in Brooklyn. Nearly 1,000 young people of diverse backgrounds, ages 8-20, join Flames each year. Most live in or near public housing. Another 1,200 from youth groups in wealthy suburbs, rural areas and other towns annually travel to Brooklyn for Flames activities. In 24 years, about 10,000 students have participated in the program.

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