Mural Designed by Jr. NBA Players Illustrating Global Unity and Social Change Unveiled at New Image Youth Center

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - “Unity Is Strength.”

“We Are One.”

Those are just two of the many inspirational messages and keywords inscribed on a mural now living at Parramore’s New Image Youth Center (NIYC).

The painting, named “Basketball Sunrise,” is the collective work of 13 and 14-year-old Jr. NBA Championship athletes, who created it to illustrate the importance of global unity and social change through the lens of basketball.

Jr. NBA, with assistance from the Orlando Magic who have worked with the NIYC on many projects and events through the years, decided the youth center was the best home for it. During a Zoom call, which featured Jr. NBA representatives, members of the Magic, including Community Ambassador Bo Outlaw, and several of NIYC’s students, the mural was unveiled at the youth facility.

Now every time Christopher Amervil, a 16-year-old junior at Oak Ridge High School, is at the facility doing homework, developing skills or participating in activities that improve his health, this painting will motivate him even more to achieve his goals and take an active role in his community.

“I think it’s special because there are a lot of impact words that impact the youth in a great way,” he said. “With them (his NIYC peers) seeing it, it can help them do greater things and come as one and to stop what’s going on in the world now.”

The phrase “Unity Is Strength” in particular really resonates with Amervil, who says the NIYC lifts him up, boosts his spirits and makes him feel right at home every time he’s there.

“I come here and I think of each and every one of them as family,” he said. “So, I’ll see ‘Unity Is Strength,’ that will be words that will impact me the most because I can come here and just know that this is one big family with everybody here.”

The last two summers, the Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World was the home for the Jr. NBA Global Championship, which featured 16 boys and girls teams, eight from the United States and eight from the rest of the world. That complex is again being utilized by the league this year, although it’s NBA teams who are occupying the space as they continue their mission to complete the 2019-20 season.

With the circumstances being what they are and with social distancing such an important part of trying to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the Jr. NBA Global Championship event went virtual this year. Nearly 3,000 teens from dozens of different countries participated in a series of virtual basketball competitions. Through innovative online technology, teams squared off in events that tested their athletic gifts, basketball skills, and team unity. On the boys side, a team from the Asia Pacific region won the title, while for the girls it was a squad from Latin America that took home the trophy.

One of Jr. NBA’s four core values is community, which is NIYC’s forte. With all that has been happening around the country tied to social injustice, educating the Jr. NBA athletes was a big part of the program this year. That’s how the mural came about, as the players got creative and applied their artistic talents to show what social change means to them.

“This is beyond inspirational because we are living in a perilous moment right now,” NIYC Founder and Executive Director Dr. Shanta Barton-Stubbs said. “For it to be the NBA, first off, Jr. NBA and the Orlando Magic and for this message to be so strong, I’m just appreciative knowing that the ones who have supported us all for the last ten, fifteen years, it’s not just a statement, it’s really something that they believe in.”

“We are just excited,” she added. “Number one because we’ve been talking about social justice with our kids, but you don’t know how well you connect all the time with them. Having a piece in here that will actually start provoking conversations about it, they are starting to see that their lives matter to more than just the people here at New Image Youth Center. They know we are a family. They know we love them. But to know that people outside of these doors are supporting them – the Orlando Magic, basketball players whom they believe in, the team who they believe in is supporting that Black Lives Matter as well – is just as important. This piece will remind us about that.”

Since its inception in 2004, the NIYC has provided a safe place for children to learn and play while helping many achieve their dreams of going to college.

One of four core pillars at the NYC is social development, which focuses on helping kids build healthy communication skills, teamwork, and leadership abilities. The other three concentrate on academic support, health and wellness, and crisis prevention.

It’s important now more than ever for youth to come together and brainstorm ways they can make a difference in their communities.

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