The Running Strong Dreamstarter Fellowship: An Introduction by Darius Sparks


When I first heard about Running Strong, I had just got out of basketball practice at my local college, the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. When I was growing up it was hard for my mother to get me to basketball camps in the summer because she couldn’t afford it.  I always had this dream of running free basketball camps for my Reservation (enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) and the Urban community where I attended College in Bismarck, ND. So, that’s where the idea came to mind, but I didn’t know how I was going to afford the cost of putting the camps on. Then my Aunt Cheryl contacted me asking if I still had my dream of running free basketball camps. I said, “Yes!” She had expressed to me that there was an organization called “Running Strong for American Indian Youth.” They were offering a $10,000 grant called, “Dreamstarter.” I immediately filled out the grant application and continued with college and basketball. With that being a full-time job itself, I totally forgot about the grant application. Also, I had little expectation that I would be accepted for it. Then, one day, I got out of basketball practice and Cheryl called me and said I was accepted for the grant! Not moments later, I was contacted from Running Strong about being accepted for the grant.

My mentor Cheryl and I were both flown out to Washington, D.C. I had never been to D.C., so I was very excited and nervous at the same time. During our time in D.C., we met the staff, other grant recipients, and started to get to know everyone right away the first day. Then we were put through a series of beneficial trainings on how to properly present ourselves in a personal interview, and how to present ourselves on camera. They even helped us develop our social media pages, so that we could reach more people about our Dream. After the trainings we went to the museums and went sightseeing on a tour bus in the evening, it was very exciting!

With the help from Running Strong staff and Billy Mills, they turned my dream into a reality. I put on free basketball camps for the youth on the Standing Rock Reservation and the Urban area of Bismarck, ND. The camps were called, “Spark Change Basketball Camps.” I always found solace on the basketball court. The sport helped me cope with my difficult childhood when I bounced in and out of foster care. With this camp, I was able to express to the youth that they can be successful in whatever they pursue, with hard work and dedication. No matter the circumstances they come from, the homes they come from, and that it is possible to have a dream become a reality. It has been such an honor to be a Dreamstarter. This opportunity gave me the chance to help the Native Youth live healthier lives and hope for brighter futures.

I am currently working for Running Strong for American Indian Youth. I was hired on for a new position called, “Running Strong Fellow.” This position gives me the freedom to create new ideas, start a foundation, and create a platform for future Fellows.

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