Built To Rise Born To Fly
It's not every day that you get to meet a "celebrity", much less an athlete that played baseball on the highest level in the Major Leagues. Now, what if this person, on any given Sunday, can be found on a baseball diamond, coaching, training, and motivating youth to become better, while focusing on their grades, behavior, and a focus on their future, then you might have run into Jemile Weeks.
A native to Central Florida, Weeks grew up in Altamonte Springs where he attended Lake Brantley High School where he was drafted out of high school but turned down the opportunity to attend the University of Miami where he was an All-American and even played in the College World Series. This success led to him being drafted a second time (in the first round) by the Oakland Athletics. His hard work led to him being called
up to play in the major leagues in just three years and even received Rookie of Year voting in a baseball career that spanned 12 years. His parents were big influences on him and his sibling's lives. He learned a lot from observing his parents who worked diligently to create an environment guided on excellence with a focus on faith, sports and education. It was his
father, Mr. Rickie Weeks, who started the Orlando Monarchs Baseball collegiate baseball
program at Historic Tinker Field which ultimately led to Jemile returning home to launch the We Family United organization. The senior Mr. Weeks views giving back to the community as a fundamental trait and to having his son now giving back is a blessing. The organization places its emphasis on three main traits; Unity, Community & Team Bonding. The overarching goal of the organization is to change the narrative of the under served youth through the game of baseball.
Another goal of the program is to increase participation of African-American youth playing baseball. This is due in part to Weeks' time while playing baseball where he saw very few players that looked like him on the baseball field. And while the number of Black players in the major leagues have crept up slightly, the numbers are still dismal. To put things in perspective, on opening day rosters in 2020, less than 8% of players were Black. Three teams that didn't have any Black players at all and of the 30 teams in the league, 14 teams had two or fewer. Meanwhile, much emphasis has been placed in Hispanic and Latin American countries. When asked why he believes this is the case, Weeks states that the effort needs to be stronger. Weeks also points to the disparities that exist in terms of funding and opportunities in lower-income minority neighborhoods.
However, he is not letting these barriers prevent him from achieving the goals he has set and believes that he can build his program in a grassroots fashion to create an atmosphere to support the kids who are a part of the We Fam organization. We visited a group practice session on a Sunday afternoon at the Rolling Hills Baseball Complex on Pine Hills Rd. We witnessed an enthusiastic group of approximately 40 boys and girls, ages 7 - 15, participating in a variety of baseball and softball drills including batting, fielding techniques led by a group of dedicated coaches. The majority of kids learn of the program through word of mouth or are referred by other coaches who see the potential a player has and believes that the player could benefit from participating. All participants in the program must also adhere to a Code of Conduct which includes, maintaining a minimum GPA of at least 2.5.
During our visit, it was a warm afternoon with the sun glaring and the temperature approaching 90 degrees, but you wouldn't have known. The kids are enthusiastic as they
rotate through the different stations taking advice and instruction from coaches. The program is more of a development camp where players come to hone their skills. So, while not a traditional baseball team, that competes against other teams, the group does operate like one by encouraging and supporting all members and sharing in each other's success. So, when one of them experiences success at any level, its a win for the entire program. The organization is aiming to grow the program from an 8-week program into a year-long experience. However, they realize that will take the support of a village including funding. To assist, Weeks has created a donation platform that makes it easy for anyone interested in donating to support by texting "WEFAM" to 41444.
When asked for a closing quote, Rickie Weeks offered this, "By changing these kids, we are changing the community, and this is just a start".