CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – April 2023
“I feel that I have made progress, but there will continue to be a lot more to get done. It’s all about life and making it better for younger people.”
By David Grossman
Kwame Otchere refuses to change what he does – because it’s done for all the right reasons.
There’s no command performance. No glitzy show. For him, it’s all about finding a practical way to inspire others.
Otchere, who was born in Toronto, is on a journey. It’s one that is full of challenges and decisions. Even with all and that, comes periods of uncertainty and anxiety which he’s been able to cope with in a positive way. To achieve his values and standards, Otchere is always thinking and cautious about obstacles and confrontations.
Obsessed with motivation, this is a man who is greatly energized to do what he knows is honorable, proper and appropriate. In short, Otchere means well, strives on, and changes course only when necessary or viable.
Might sound a bit strange, but he’s also using the sport of basketball to help deliver passionate personal advice to youngsters between the ages of 12 and 24. He knows that many are infatuated with the sport and can often ramble off the slang associated with the game. Otchere’s victory is trying to enlighten them with hope and pride in their achievements, words that go beyond putting a ball in a basket.
Now 24 years old, Otchere won’t beat around the bush when it comes to communicating with a group that might show signs of vulnerability. He emphasizes that there are triumphs and confrontations in life waiting for them – but it is also something that takes an intuitive commitment on their part.
For him, the dialogue happens through coaching in a gym or in classroom-style community sessions.
It is usually Wednesday evenings at a basketball program at the Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Adult Learning Centre. On Thursday evenings, you’ll find him at the Rathburn Area Youth Office, facilitating discussions on a variety of topics ranging from community issues to dealing with conflicts to youth justice.
Caring, encouraging, and guiding. Three words that describe Otchere – and he’s even stronger when it relates to leadership skills.
Home for Otchere is in one of the approximately 60,000 rental housing units in over 2,100 buildings across Canada’s largest city. You may know it as Toronto Community Housing.
“I see things that I am not happy with – lots of violence in my area, criminal activity and I feel an obligation to help get kids off the street, away from drugs and doing something fulfilling with their lives,” said Otchere, whose family is originally from the West African country of Ghana.
“For me, I have been very fortunate to have had great parental support, a wonderful family and friends, but that’s not always the case for others.”
Having attended West Glen Junior School, Bloorlea Middle School and in the graduating class of 2016 at Silverthorn Collegiate, Otchere didn’t stop learning. He went on to earn back-to-back diplomas in Recreation and Leisure Services followed by Sport Management at Humber College. For the record, both post-secondary accomplishments came with honors academic grades.
As a self-admitted sport fanatic and former two-time high school basketball Most Valuable Player, when talking with Otchere, he leaves you with a clear direction on where his career interests are leaning. Not as an athlete, but in working with them.
That brings us to how he spends his weekdays. No surprise, he’s trying to educate and advocate for others.
For years, Otchere has heard more than enough of devastating scenarios. It has resulted in an exhausting amount of anxiety, stress, and complications. As an advocate and enthusiast, you’ll hear him repeatedly talk of his community duty. That is to do what he can to make the world a better place. Best place to start, is improving things right in his own neighborhood.
Since his graduating year at Silverthorn, Otchere has devoted countless hours working in Toronto Community Housing. It started as a Junior Camp Counsellor, and then branched out as a senior youth leader with the Lakeshore Area Multifaceted Projects (LAMP) Community Health Centre. For almost six years, he was a supervisor and leader with the City of Toronto.
“I wasn’t there to get a cheque, but to make an impactful change,” said Otchere, who said the opportunity got him plugged in to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment – especially MLSE’s LaunchPad, which is a series of sport and youth development programs aimed at enhancing healthy and active lifestyles.
“I had played basketball there and liked everything about it,” said Otchere, who has earned some National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) credentials. “The proximity, the community engagement, the social inter-acting, it was a lively and active place that I wanted to be involved in and I got hooked. It was like a magnet – and I had to be there.”
In 2021, Otchere secured his first fulltime job. It was an opportunity to use a special kind of power to bring people together. He had the work experience, also the project skills earned through education and was well motivated as a youth leader working in sport to now take the next leap – one of encouraging change for the better. Enter the task of becoming a Sport Program Lead at MLSE LaunchPad.
“This opportunity (at MLSE) comes with a great responsibility – and I don’t take it lightly,” he said. “I feel that I have made progress, but there will continue to be a lot more to get done. It’s all about life and making it better for younger people.”
Otchere remembers a biblical phrase shared with him by his twin brothers – “To whom much is given, much is expected”. It’s something that registers with him quite a bit.
Tough times have shaken him over the years. A few years ago, he lost several friends to gun violence, and harder was the death of his father, John, during the pandemic.
“I had to suppress my emotions,” said Otchere. “But things like that hit hard and never go away. My dad would have been so proud knowing what I am doing He and my mom (Florence) not only taught me to take care of myself, but to spend the time to take care of others. It might be one step at a time, but I know I am making progress.”
The Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO) series, “Empowering Stories from behind the Bench”, continues to put the spotlight on individuals – like Otchere – who educate the use of strong coaching fundamentals of improvement, guidance, and training. Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities has also provided financial assistance in the Jumpstart Into Coaching program offered by the (CAO).
“My purpose was to try help the next generation make things much better.“
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
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