Why Do We Play?

Akil Danjuma, Class of 2016

Born and raised in Oakland, Saint Mary's College of California alumnus Akil Danjuma never considered athletics as a possible career path when he first began college. He attended three different community colleges before earning an associate’s degree in Behavioral Science and Liberal Arts from Merritt College in Oakland. He later transferred to Florida A&M University where he studied Sociology. It was at this time that he decided he wanted to focus on the things that would help propel his career forward. He began reflecting on the summer camps and basketball teams he was a part of as a child and soon realized that it was recreation and sport that allowed him to bridge the gap between activity and quality of life.

"I wanted to help people find a happy place where they could express themselves through leisure and things they loved doing.”

Akil is now a Program Coordinator for Playworks, an organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing the opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play.

“Recess is often an overlooked aspect of school in the bigger scheme of education but there are many teachable moments and character building opportunities that arise on the playground. Teaching kids to respect the game and be a good sport are just two of the many lessons we instill that can be transferred from play to all facets of life.”

Playworks currently partners with the Golden State Warriors and their Hoops4Kids initiative to ensure Bay Area kids experience fun and safe recreational activities. A video of their partnership which features Akil can be found here https://youtu.be/3QoPJClgui8. Akil recently sat down with us to talk about his experience in the Graduate Kinesiology program and his current position with Playworks.

Why did you choose to attend Saint Mary's College of California’s Graduate Kinesiology program?

I chose the Graduate Kinesiology program at Saint Mary’s College as the curriculum and coursework suited what I was looking for. I wanted to look at sports from a more theoretical perspective and study questions such as: Why do we play? What motivates us to keep playing? I also wanted to understand sport and recreation from the administrative and operational side, such as generating revenue and acquiring funding and sponsorships for programs, to planning and organizing sporting events. Being from and living in Oakland also made it an ideal match.

That is wonderful to hear. In a broader sense, what have you enjoyed most about your experience at Saint Mary's College?

The setting of the campus was my favorite part. The drive into Moraga is really nice and when you’re on campus it feels really fresh and green. The size of the campus is really nice too. It gives the school a more communal and inviting feel that you won’t necessarily get at other larger institution, which I believe makes collaboration with others much easier.

While you were in the Graduate Kinesiology program, you also worked for SMC Campus Recreation. What was your experience like working there?

My experience working for Saint Mary’s Campus Recreation was great. The Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center was a brand new facility, a little under a year old, when I started and that allowed an opportunity for me to learn a lot through trial and error. In addition to being awesome, the staff is a well-rounded, diverse group of people with various backgrounds in recreation that gave me innumerable tools and ideas to use in my own work. I learned about programming and class scheduling as well as marketing strategies to promote participation. Most notably in my time with SMC Campus Recreation, I truly realized the impact that a recreational facility and its activities can have on a community and its overall health, whether mental or physical.

As the video shows, you have an amazing job with Playworks. How did the Graduate Kinesiology coursework help prepare you for a career in the field of sports and recreation?

The Graduate Kinesiology coursework helped me prepare for a career in sports and recreation by having classes that focused on just about every aspect that would be important for working in the field. With courses in sociology, psychology, and philosophy, I was able to study sports from the theoretical perspective I was looking for. The coursework also helped me understand physical activity and the various impacts it may have on different individuals, which is great for coaches and teachers. Supervision & Legal Aspects helped me understand how to plan and create events while ensuring safety and decreasing personal liability, which is imperative in the litigious society we live in. The coursework in media and public relations as well as administration taught me how to create sponsorship proposals, pitches, and budgets, as well as how to market events and generate revenue. The coursework in Applied Concepts of Exercise Science gave me more tools to understand the basics of human movement and nutrition--not to mention it was fun working in a lab pretending to be in a Gatorade commercial.

What do you enjoy most about your current position with Playworks?

There are a couple of things I enjoy most. I enjoy the fact that I am working with an organization in which I was actually a participant when I was in elementary school (at that time it was called Sports4Kids). Being a former participant, I truly know the feeling of having an adult presence and structured activity on the playground that you can rely on and look forward to for fun. Mostly, I enjoy the lessons we teach to the students through that of play: respect, teamwork, trust, communication, accountability, healthy and inclusive play, and many other underlying lessons that come with participation in sports and being active.

Lastly, what advice do you have for those who are interested in the Graduate Kinesiology program?

The Graduate Kinesiology program is great for those who know that they want to work in sports but aren’t exactly sure in what area. In my one year in the program I took advantage of opportunities to work and intern in collegiate recreation at Saint Mary’s, stadium operations at UC Berkeley, and guest services for the Golden State Warriors. I took advantage of opportunities that intrigued me and within that got a real sense of what I like and what I was not too fond of. Being in the program is also a great opportunity to build your personal brand and network. I believe that the Bay Area sports network is smaller than one would think and the chances of knowing or meeting someone that can give you a real opportunity increases by being in this program and gaining exposure.