Social Justice Game Changer: Dr. Shanta' Barton-Stubbs

by Josh Cohen

Name: Dr. Shanta' Barton-Stubbs

Game Honored: Orlando Magic vs. Indiana Pacers (4/9/21)

One of the most popular board games of all time is Monopoly. It’s a game that most people have played at some point in their lives or at least watched others playing it.

Little did Dr. Shanta' Barton-Stubbs realize it at the time, but a game of Monopoly would turn out to make a huge impact in her life.

She was 21 years old then and a sophomore in college. Her father, a pastor, had just moved his church from Winter Park to Parramore. There, Barton-Stubbs started noticing something was missing. Needed in that community was a safe, constructive place for children to go to after school, on weekends and throughout the summer months.

On this one particular day outside the church, she saw a group of kids there, four to be precise. They were being a little rambunctious and rebellious. As Barton-Stubbs remembers it, two were sitting on a grocery basket while the others pushed the cart into the street. Worried about their safety, Barton-Stubbs invited the kids into the church and they played a game of Monopoly.

The very next day, her dad called and said those kids were back and they wanted to play more games. After thinking about what this meant to them and how it can help them stay out of trouble, Barton-Stubbs returned to the church and played more games with them.

That became a routine thing, and before she knew it, the community embraced this safe haven, now called the New Image Youth Center (NIYC). Since 2004, the year it officially opened, the NIYC has provided kids in the Parramore neighborhood a place where they can feel safe, become more confident and improve themselves in and out of the classroom.

“In the beginning it was very bare bones, just trying to provide the kids an after-school experience where they were not alone,” said Barton-Stubbs, a licensed mental health therapist with a specialty in play therapy for children and adults. “I starting finding out very early on it was important for them to also have structure and to create a family-like unit. I didn’t have much experience with working with children, but the one thing I knew was how my parents raised me, so I thought that was very important for exposures outside of their neighborhoods.”

Early on, taking the kids on mini field trips and to the movies were the main activities. What followed was the creation of various programs focused on academic support, social development, health and wellness and crisis intervention. Most recently, Barton-Stubbs added in a social justice pillar as well.

It brings her tremendous joy seeing the progress the children have made through the years. The adversity many of them have overcome inspires Barton-Stubbs each day she walks into the NIYC.

“At first, we put a lot into it, we put a lot of work into it. We put in a lot of long days, a lot of long nights,” she said. “Situations come up and you’re there to help and guide the children along the way, but they develop a level of trust that is just something that is immeasurable…When you start seeing them bringing down those barriers, I think that was the most important thing. When they began to trust me, that’s when I began to have more opportunity to present more to them because now they are more open and willing to try it.”

“The whole time you can see the greatness in the children, you’re just hoping that they connect with that greatness and make it. It’s an amazing feeling to see what you saw in them, they eventually saw in themselves and they connected that and they went for their dreams,” she added.

The first time Barton-Stubbs was connected with the Orlando Magic was in 2008. It was then when the Magic had heard about the NIYC. They wanted to do all they can to make the experience even better for the kids, so they helped refurbish the facility.

To this day, Barton-Stubbs and NIYC’s youth from that time, who are now adults, are incredibly appreciative of the Magic’s 2008 donation, as they often talk about how that renovation helped the NIYC grow into what it is today.

Over the years, the Magic have participated in many more events with NIYC kids, which has helped them build confidence and create unforgettable memories.

“I grew up going to Orlando Magic games. To see that they (Magic players and coaches) have amazing jobs, they’re very prestigious people but yet they understand the importance of giving back,” she said. “It really connects the dots for many of our youth who are seeing that community action.”

About the Program: As part of the Magic and Steve Clifford’s continuing efforts toward social justice reform, he created the Social Justice Game Changer program to honor one local leader who has made a difference in the realm of social justice issues. A cause close to his heart, Clifford is extremely active in programs that support equality and justice for all people in the Central Florida community.

Through this program, Clifford looks to put the spotlight on those continuously doing the hard work, day in and day out, fighting for sustainable change. As part of his program, one person is selected and honored each game. The honorees are given tickets, provided by Clifford, to the game and featured in-arena on the Magic Vision screen at center court.

“The purpose is to honor and to celebrate so many of the people in the Orlando community who are fighting for change and who commit their lives to making Orlando a better place,” Clifford said. “It’s just a way to celebrate them, what they stand for, and what they do for our community.”

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