Saving kids, one hoop at a time
Style Magazine Newswire | 3/5/2013, 12:50 p.m.
In Chicago, we asked that simple question of people in the heart of communities plagued by violence. What's going on?
"We need jobs, education, recreation and we want to live, we want to feel safe," is mainly what young people told us. They shared their stories with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina's Church, the Rev. Chris Devron of Christ the King Jesuit College prep school and me.
A young man said: "When I grow up I want to be a lawyer. I am good at arguing and debating. My friends call me good news because I always take the positive side of the argument."
Another young man said, "I'm good with the pen. I write short stories and put music behind the story so you can really hear what I'm saying."
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What we heard was that they all have hopes and dreams. Not one of them dreamed or aspired to a life of crime. Among the violence and death that so many experience, hope is alive. I was not shocked or surprised. It is what I expected to hear and what I knew: These kids want to belong and they want to feel valued and, yes, respected.
Kids play basketball for "Windy City Hoops" in Chicago.
Earning respect, having a positive reputation and being a valued member of a group or a team is partly the reason I'm where I am today; I was taught I could achieve these virtues by playing on a basketball team. Too many of our kids try to achieve them by being in a gang.
We need to teach our young people that respect is given and never taken, that reputation comes from doing honest work and not hard time. They need to know the only group worth being a part of requires giving back through teamwork.
My coaches, mentors and teachers taught me those lessons when I was growing up on Chicago's West Side. They taught me to use my sports platform to help others, better the community and better others' lives. It can be the crucial difference for thousands of young people, whose only knowledge of a structured organization comes from gangs.
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Over the years, sports and play have broken down racial and cultural barriers. We believe that once kids who might be at risk get to know each other and play sports together, the murder rate will drop. In fully functioning parks and schools, we can win their hearts and minds and create safe places for them to interact with each other. I am proud to join forces with Mayor Emanuel to expand the "Windy City Hoops" basketball league, which would extend our Friday and Saturday night tournaments to 10 more Chicago parks beginning in March.