Charlotte Nonprofit Moves Its Focus From Soccer to “Listening”

As the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter Movement invoke changes across the country, the Creative Player Foundation is opening up a dialogue with its African American and Latino communities.

CHARLOTTE — Daniel Aruajo has enjoyed a storied career in soccer, playing for a variety of top-flight South American teams before becoming a FIFA-licensed agent with clients across the Americas, Europe and Asia. The Uruguayan has also acted as a high-level consultant for a variety of MLS teams.

For many of Charlotte’s underprivileged children, however, Araujo is better known as a vital conduit for mentorship, tutoring and soccer coaching.

In 2014, he co-founded the nonprofit Creative Player Foundation, an afterschool program on the west side of the city that brings soccer to at-risk urban communities, who would otherwise be denied access to the sport by its prohibitive cost and cultural barriers.

“We’re here as a community center, to bring people together regardless of socio-economic background or beliefs,” says Araujo, whose program predominantly serves Latino and African American families.

“We unite people. We integrate, instead of segregate.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily removed the prospect of team sports, the Creative Player Foundation has moved its program online.

In addition to afterschool programming, the foundation has started meeting with local community members once a week. Naturally, the ongoing protest movement against police brutality has been at the forefront of conversations.

“We feel the obligation that we need to talk to people,” says Araujo. “The protests have brought a lot of conversation and concerns from both kids and parents to the table.

“We want to know how we can help and how we can bring people together, and so far it’s been very productive. People from the African American community have been sharing their feelings with us, and we are listening.”

Araujo, who is also an active volunteer with several CMS schools, has found that underserved communities need one thing more than anything else right now: to be heard.

“Right now, listening to others to get a greater understanding of their situation is key,” says Araujo. “Without empathy and without understanding, it is difficult to move the needle forward.

“Sometimes, the uncomfortable conversations that people don’t necessarily want to hear are what is needed to move forward.”