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Jesse White reflects on a half-century of coaching his high-flying team

Illinois Secretary State Jesse White

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White

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Updated: March 1, 2013 10:20AM

Last night, I watched the Jesse White Tumbling Team’s performance at halftime of the Chicago Bulls game. Performing as the premier halftime entertainment of an NBA game never gets old. In fact, it serves as a reminder of just how far the Jesse White Tumbling Team has come.

I believe when you are successful in this life, you have an obligation to give it back and help others, especially those less fortunate. This is what I love about the Jesse White Tumbling Team, and what the Team means to me: a chance to help so many young people, who might have otherwise become lost, go on to become American success stories.

In 1959, I founded the Jesse White Tumbling Team to serve as a positive alternative for at-risk youth residing in and around the Chicago area. Over the last 53 years, I have worked as a volunteer to help guide team members on the path to success and keep them from gangs, drugs, alcohol and smoking. I am proud that more than 13,500 young men and women have performed with the Team.

The program has received international praise. This year, the Team will give more than 1,500 performances using seven units around the world. Past performances have taken these inner-city kids to venues throughout the United States as well as Canada, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Tokyo, Japan and Croatia. The Team has also been featured in commercials, national television shows and movies.

Most of these young men and women come from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. To many, I have had the privilege of serving as a mentor, and in some cases, a father figure.

Indeed, the Tumbling Team serves as an extension of their family: it provides structure, guidance and encouragement in their lives to help them understand that as long as they work hard and properly prepare themselves, they can go on to accomplish great things. Many former members of the Team have gone on to become lawyers, engineers, teachers, firefighters, police officers, athletes — the list goes on and on. I am proud of each and every one of them.

To further help these young people gain a solid foothold on the path to success, I established the Scholars Program in 2000. This program provides academic and financial support for current and former members of the Tumbling Team who plan to continue their educations beyond high school.

The Jesse White Tumbling Team began 53 years ago as an effort to help guide at-risk kids on a path toward success. Now we are taking another step in this journey. Next month, we break ground to build the Jesse White Community Center, which will open the following year as a safety net for Chicago’s youth. The Center will be utilized as the Tumbling Team’s home-base for many purposes, including physical training pursuits, as well as in-service classes for educational programs to improve scholastic skills. It will also be opened to the public to enjoy athletic, educational and recreational activities.

In closing, I want to leave you with a motto that I live by: Do something good for someone every day. Thank you.

Jesse White donated his fee for writing this column to the Jesse White Foundation.

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