Jamie and Kathy Johnson were young, married, and facing trouble. They were hurting from their past and unsure of their future. When a young pastor and his wife grabbed hold of them, loved them, and fought for them, their life changed completely. Their faith grew and, just when it seemed all was lost, hope slowly broke through. As their hearts healed, they were filled with compassion for all of the other hurting young people out there. What could be done so that as many as possible could not only survive but thrive?
One night in 1992, Jamie had a vision: "What if we could build teams like leagues of superheroes that helped young people in a city?"
Eight years later, our first team grew out of a small group that met in the Johnson's living room. People from across the country had moved to San Antonio because they had heard about a team of people coming together to help young people. We focused on growing in our faith and as we did, the community began to rise. We worked with young people on military bases, in churches, in schools, and in the hurting neighborhoods of San Antonio's Southside. And young people were changing.
When we were looking for a name, there was a boy clinging to a little red ball as a security object. One day, it rolled out of his hands and into his father's, and his dad rolled it back to him. A lightbulb went off because the little boy realized this thing he had in his hands this whole time had a purpose. We saw that as a metaphor for young people with their lives in their hands, needing help to know what to do with it.
A team of us moved to San Jose, Costa Rica in order to work in precarios- hurting, dangerous, make-shift neighborhoods in Costa Rica. As we walked through the precario week after week, we built relationships with families and young people. Young people began to change as they had hope for their future, and their families began to rise out of their struggle and into a better life. and Love Your City was born.
And as the Love Your City movement began to gain ground, we realized the need for a support system- a team that would care for, support, and train the current teams and the teams to come. So, the Global team was born! A team dedicated to growing teams.
Letters started coming in the mail from students in Nicaragua who had hope we might be able to help them go to school. We offered them a deal: we would find the funds to send them to school, and they, in exchange, would be trained as leaders who would turn and fight for other young people in their community. And so, the work in Nicaragua began.
We realized we needed to be based in an international city- a Historic city that would serve as our global headquarters in order to better serve the teams growing across the globe. In 2013, we relocated to Atlanta to do the local work of loving the city while also supporting each team.
All along the way, we were building relationships with people who shared the dream of helping young people. Emeka was one of those people. He dreamed of helping youth in Nigeria, his home, and in late 2013, he left the states and returned to his home to begin our first African team!
What began as a mentoring relationship with Fikisha, a Kenyan organization who served street boys in slums, became a new Boy With a Ball team in 2014, when we joined forces in order to fight for all young people in Kenya.
In 2015, we received a call from friends in a local church in Boston who wanted to provide seed funding for our work to begin in Boston. Later that year, we were pointed to an emerging leader within the city who had a heart for young people. A group of local leaders came together, and Boy With a Ball Boston began.
In 2017, we shifted our focus as a global team to Gwinnett County. Gwinnett houses Metro-Atlanta's most diverse neighborhoods. With more than 900,000 residents speaking over a hundred languages. our Global team leads the flagship organization's efforts in Love Your City walkthroughs and the Velocity Cross Age Mentoring programs which are being scaled around the world, helping populations of young people and their families overcome obstacles and launch into healthy futures..
On February 14, 2021, we turned twenty. For all that we have learned, for all the miracles we have seen, we know we are made for one thing: to Love Your City. Watch the official Boy With a Ball documentary and celebrate with us your part in this historic movement.
After three consecutive trips to explore our expansion into the Middle East, we grew into Lebanon in the end of 2023. With hope to reach and launch young people as changemakers in the cities, slums, and refugee camps across the country, we are excited to see how Love Your City will grow across the region.
In 2022, we were introduced to CRU Ethiopia’s (called Great Commission Ministries - GCM) Bekele Shanko who introduced us to GCM’s Country Director, Dr. Girma Gebremedhin. Throughout the year as trips between BWAB leaders and GSM members were exchanged, the organizations have agreed to work together to launch Love Your City in 21 sites in Addis Ababa and then in 2-3 refugee camps.