Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Girls Can Be Warriors

“It’s better to give than to receive.”

As of last Friday, I’m a born-again believer in this adage.

Late that afternoon, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's office got word that Paul Wong, who heads Oakland’s We Believe Foundation, had an extra pair of tickets for the Warriors playoff opener against the Houston Rockets. Wong was looking to give away two tickets to a deserving Oakland student.

Michael Hunt from Schaaf's office mentioned the incredible opportunity at the close of a meeting with our team at Fairyland. Did we have any ideas?

Wait, what? An epic team? The hottest ticket in town? The dream of so many of us?
To be honest, most of the kids I hang with at Fairyland are toddlers, which makes them a little too young to fully appreciate a pro basketball game of this importance.

So I thought about it, and then I called my friend Odette Nemes at the Oakland-based Girls Inc. of Alameda County, an organization whose mission of “inspiring girls to be smart, strong and bold” I strongly support.

“Do you have any die-hard Warriors fans among your girls?” I asked. Definitely, she replied.

I didn’t learn until later that Odette gave a prospective candidate a pop quiz: Name the starting five in the most recent game. She wasn’t surprised when Jewell Platt nailed the answer. After all, here’s a girl who has been a fan for years, watches every game, and has a whole drawer of Warriors socks, not to mention four team hats and jerseys that proudly display the names of Ellis, Curry, Thompson and Green.

Oh, and she’s the captain of Oakland Unity High’s varsity basketball team.

Jewell’s reaction upon hearing that she and her mom would be going to the game is understandable to all Warriors fans. She began crying so hard, she says, that her mom was initially scared. When she finally understood the reason for the emotion, Jewell says, her mom was even more excited than she was. That’s because Jewell’s mom Tish is the assistant coach of Jewell’s basketball team; she used to play ball herself until a knee injury sidelined her in high school.
Left to right: Girls Inc. member Jewell Platt and her mother, Tish McDowell, at the first Warriors playoff game.

For many years, Jewell’s mom and uncle took her to one Warriors game per year. This was the first year that hadn’t been in the cards — tickets were just too expensive.

Jewell says that both sports and music run in her family. Her uncle, who she thinks of as her father figure, noticed her ability and encouraged and inspired her to join a team. “Basketball is really a stress reliever for me,” she says.

Before I tell you about Jewell and Tish’s grand adventure at the game, I want to note that this young lady has more going on in her life than basketball.

Odette says that Jewell embodies the Girls Inc. mission of being strong, smart and bold. She is vice president of her student government association and of the Black Student Union. At Girls Inc., she participates in the Advocating for Change Together program, where she is working on a prison-reform advocacy project. The project’s partner is the Prison Law Office in Berkeley; together they’re trying to stop a  bill that would have a negative effect on juveniles in the criminal justice system.  

“She is an impressive leader, athlete and social change agent,” says Odette. 

On game day, mom and daughter proudly wore their red Girls Inc. shirts for selfies outside the stadium. Once inside, they covered them with Warriors shirts. (Red was the color of the opposing team’s jerseys.)

“There were so many people!” Jewell told me afterward. “It was so crazy and the energy was great. We made a lot of friends in our row.”

She also took mental notes on how to become a better team leader. Steph Curry’s decision to walk away from an on-court altercation with Patrick Beverley made a big impression on her, she told me.

After graduating from Unity High School, Jewell wants to major in kinesiology at San Diego State and later work in sports medicine. This summer, she’ll participate in a Girls Inc. program that will help her prepare for college applications.

Does the mayor’s office, the We Believe Foundation and Children’s Fairyland think that we found the most perfect young Warriors fan for Game One of the playoffs? We do.  

To learn more about Girls Inc. of Alameda County, and to invest in this life-changing organization that empowers girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers to realize their potential, visit

- C.J. Hirschfield
C.J. Hirschfield has served for 13 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park.

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