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Tony Francavilla: Building a Generation of Poet-Athletes

Tony Francavilla: Building a Generation of Poet-Athletes

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hey, guys! Spiffy here, your favorite interplanetary journalist back again on Spaceship Earth with an eye out for entrepreneurs making a difference in the world! Today, I’m excited to cruise around with Anthony “Tony” Francavilla, the chief development officer of DC SCORES. Let’s see what he’s doing to have a positive impact. 

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Tony! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing?

Tony: Happy to be with you, Spiffy! We run free after school programs in DC that combine soccer, poetry, and service learning. Our poet-athletes play soccer year-round as part of a school team, and in the fall they write and perform original poetry that answers introspective questions such as, “What do we like?” “What don't we like?” “What scares us?” “What inspires us?” Then in the spring on non-soccer days, they design and execute service projects based on that poetry, answering the question “What are we going to do about it?” It's a whole-child approach to development that improves participants' physical health, mental health, and even academic performance. We offer the program at Title 1 elementary and middle schools, where students often lack access to high-quality organized sports and arts education opportunities.

Spiffy: That’s awesome! What motivated you to tackle this challenge?

Tony: I didn't found DC SCORES, but I've been involved with the organization for a very long time. When I first saw the logo—a pencil through a soccer ball—as a soccer-playing English major, I had to learn more! Within a few weeks, I attended my first Poetry Slam, and I was hooked. Like many, I came for the soccer and stayed for the poetry. Sports, writing, and service were all pillars of my childhood, and I was pretty blown away to see an organization bring it all together into one model.

Spiffy: How are you all at DC SCORES working towards a more equitable world?

Tony: The world needs more poet-athletes, and we're building a generation of poet-athletes. Our working definition of a poet-athlete is this: someone who strives to be physically healthy, emotionally strong, and who has the skills and the sense of responsibility to speak up and act out against injustice. We are elevating youth voices and fostering youth agency by giving our poet-athletes not only a platform to speak their truths, but also a road map through our service-learning curriculum for how to effect change. Poet-athletes are activists, allies, advocates—there's a lot wrong with the city, our country, and our world, and poet-athletes are uniquely equipped to be the change they want to see.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone achieved by DC SCORES. What impact does that make?

Tony: One of our key strategic partners is the Washington Spirit, the women's professional soccer team here in DC. At the start of this season, the Spirit wore the DC SCORES logo across their jerseys. The first time I saw them take the field in a match at Audi Field was one of my all-time favorite DC SCORES moments for two reasons. First, watching our poet-athletes watching their idols (the defending champs!) representing them on the field was really moving. Our kids were awestruck, and I loved it. Second, the Spirit players themselves embody so much of what it means to be a poet-athlete. They've been through so much adversity as a team over the past couple years, and as female athletes they are constantly fighting for equal respect, recognition, and pay.

Spiffy: Excellent! Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from that experience?

Tony: Social justice is at the very core of DC SCORES. Yet, when George Floyd was murdered in 2020 and DC SCORES, like so many others at that time of national and international uprising, looked inward at our own operations and practices, it was pretty evident that we weren't fully living up to the antiracist principles we were teaching our poet-athletes. We weren't living up to the standards of a poet-athlete, and we also struggled to create the safe and brave spaces necessary for our staff to work through those shortcomings. And creating safe and brave spaces is what we do! We are all aligned on our commitment to becoming an antiracist organization and we are doing the work, but it's still a work in progress. A critical work in progress.

Spiffy: Thanks again for speaking with me today, Tony—it’s been an honor!

Tony Francavilla is the chief development officer of DC SCORES. He has been fundraising for youth-serving organizations in DC for almost 15 years. He came to the city to attend Georgetown University and never left. He can still hardly believe that an organization exists in his city that combines the three most important activities of his own childhood: soccer, writing, and service. His favorite poet is Charity Blackwell, and his favorite soccer team is AC Milan. (Nominated by Diego Soto. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 8, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.