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Hoops takes to the streets in North Lawndale

The Chicago Police Department’s 10th District police station on Ogden Avenue usually hosts plenty of negative action in the North Lawndale community.

But on a recent Thursday night, the action was quite the opposite. The smell of grilled hot dogs and energetic tunes from a DJ drew residents out of their houses and into the station’s parking lot, where youngsters shooting hoops took center stage.

Photo: Ivan Villafuerte

More than 100 youth participated some weeks, and they kept coming back for more.

It was a striking counterpoint to the predictable references to youth violence, and a tribute to NCP lead agency Lawndale Christian Development Corporation’s (LCDC) elegant solution to late summer teen angst -- a basketball and a set of portable hoops. 

For the previous four years, LCDC hosted its basketball program, “Summer Slam,” indoors at Lawndale Christian Health Center. But this summer, NCP director Tracie Worthy thought it was the right time to show the neighborhood in a more public way that positive activities can keep the youth in the area out of harm’s way.

Worthy, along with NCP organizer Tameeka Christian, mapped out five different locations for a five-week outdoor B-Ball on the Block showcase, part of the citywide “Hoops in the Hood” program sponsored by LISC/Chicago that will hold its citywide championship Saturday (Aug. 21).

In a neighborhood accustomed to shootings and sirens, the basketball competition, for several evenings this summer, transformed part of North Lawndale into an inviting area where everyone was welcome to show off their talents.

Photo: Ivan Villafuerte

“There is tremendous family support at these games,” said Tracie Worthy, NCP director at Lawndale Christian Development Corp.

“We wanted to avoid inconveniencing our neighbors by shutting down streets as much as possible,” said Christian, “so we decided to congregate at parks and schoolyards for a couple of the weeks.”

The strategy worked. North Lawndale residents welcomed the basketball games with open arms, showing their support by following the portable basketball hoops from week to week.

One week, more than 100 neighborhood youth participated, with plenty of them asking when and where the next game would be. The faces in the crowd became familiar as each week passed, and new ones picked up on the trend.

“There is tremendous family support at these games,” said Worthy about the response from North Lawndale residents to B-Ball on the Block. “It’s especially good to see 18- to 25-year-old young men out here. Whether they help out with coaching or getting everything set up for the day’s games, it allows the younger children to view them as positive role models. In this neighborhood, that will do wonders for their future.”

Photo: Ivan Villafuerte

“It’s especially good to see 18- to 25-year-old young men out here," Worthy said. "Whether they help out with coaching or getting everything set up for the day’s games, it allows the younger children to view them as positive role models. In this neighborhood, that will do wonders for their future.”

One of those most deeply involved is referee Andre Bryant. He officiated all of the games and was happy to participate. He called the games fairly and gave youngsters useful tips and techniques so they would be encouraged to continue pursuing the game of basketball.

“I enjoy seeing all of these young boys and girls out here,” said Bryant. “It shows they not only need a program like this in their neighborhood, but that they want it here. We targeted the 8- to 14-year-olds for a few reasons; the main one is the lack of city-sponsored programs for this particular age group, especially in this neighborhood.”   

Another encouraging sight was the presence of the Chicago Police Department’s community policing program, C.A.P.S., whose representatives attended every game. In addition to coaching teams for the league, Officer John Reynolds played an even more important role by being a positive influence for the youth as well as the older participants. He was the symbol of the CPD wanting to change the relationship between the police and the neighborhood.

“My hope is that I’m viewed as an equal and not someone who wants to impose on everyone,” he said. “I’m a member of this community, as well, and I want things to change also. If something as simple as basketball can keep trouble off of the streets, there is no telling what the positive relationship the police can have with the residents can do for the area.”       

Photo: Ivan Villafuerte

The B-Ball events, part of LISC/Chicago's citywide Hoops in the Hood program, include arts activities, health screenings and a police presence.

The intersection of 19th Street and Drake was chosen to kick off this summer’s B-Ball on the Block because a shooting occurred during the weeks leading up to the first game. Tameeka Christian and other volunteers went door-to-door to spread the word and invite all of the residents to take back their neighborhood.

“Our hope was that when these five weeks are finished the same parks and lots where we held games would continue to attract the neighborhood youth rather than the all-too-common neighborhood violence,” she said about the basketball program’s goal for the summer. Many of the residents can say they surely will continue to work to accomplish that.

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Crime/safety, Youth , Sports

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