"Hoops" Tips Off vs. Youth Violence
"A lot of people get 'jumped' on the street," said Jimmy Resendiz about everyday life in his Southwest Side neighborhood.
But on this day—this mid-summer Friday in a Little Village schoolyard—he didn’t have to worry about that.
The buzz-cut 14-year-old was safely surrounded by his coach and basketball buddies as they warmed up for the late afternoon cross-city “Hoops in the ‘Hood” tournament. And though he likely didn’t realize it, Jimmy was also surrounded by one of Chicago’s—and the nation’s—more promising strategies to quell the epidemic of gun violence that has swept city streets in the too-hot summer of 2012.
Hoops in the Hood has spread to a dozen neighborhoods since its beginnings in Pilsen about a dozen years ago.
Eric Young Smith
“We’re making sure that, for at least a few hours every Friday, these young people and their families can come together and share with one another three things: peace, unity and respect,” said Jaime De Leon, NCP director of Enlace Chicago, lead agency in Little Village for LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program, which hosted the event.
More than 200 players, coaches, parents and community leaders had gathered near 23rd Street and Kedzie Avenue to celebrate the sixth season of "Hoops in the 'Hood." There was much to celebrate. What began in the Pilsen neighborhood as a modest anti-gang tactic has spread to 11 more communities, with logistical and technical support from LISC Chicago and grant support from State Farm Insurance.
At regular intervals during the summer, with the help and permission of police and other city departments, organizers in each neighborhood rope off a different residential block. They then orchestrate a basketball tournament complete with portable backboards, scoreboard, game clock and zebra-shirted referees. Off-court there are refreshments plus activities like face-painting, skate-boarding, chess-playing or whatever else peaceable folks in that neighborhood like to do.
“Owning” the Street
“The premise,” said Keri Blackwell, LISC Chicago’s deputy director of programs who has shepherded Hoops from the get-go, “is that if we occupy our blocks and engage our kids there’ll be less room—literally—for the gangbangers and drug dealers. It gives folks a sense of ownership of their streets.”
Jaime De Leon, NCP director for Enlace Chicago in Little Village, welcomes more than 200 people to the sixth season of Hoops. “We’re making sure that, for at least a few hours every Friday, these young people and their families can come together and share with one another three things: peace, unity and respect,” he said.
Eric Young Smith
Every neighborhood does it a bit differently and calls it what they like. In Little Village it’s “B-Ball on the Block” and besides basketball there’s volleyball, 3-on-3 soccer, arts-and-crafts, health screenings for adults and live music.
In a neighborhood where street gangs vie for members and battle for turf, the Friday festivals bring kids together across invisible boundaries, no matter what their race, school or affiliation.
For Jimmy Resendiz, who lives with his grandparents and goes to Phoebe A. Hearst School south of the Stevenson Expressway on 47th Street, it’s a chance to hang with teammates from Joseph E. Gary School up on 31st. That doesn’t usually happen in a part of the city where parents are loath to see their kids stray from their own blocks … or even backyards.
“To see kids from different neighborhoods, to see families from all walks of life, coming together like this to do something positive, this makes [police officers’] jobs a lot easier,” 1st Deputy Superintendent Al Wysinger told the crowd. “Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and Superintendent [Garry] McCarthy appreciate what you’re doing. We’d like to see this spread across the entire city.”
A Bloody Epidemic
Similar tributes were offered by aldermen Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Michael Chandler (24th) and Walter Burnett (27th)—all looking to support any strategy that will curb this summer’s rash of gang violence.
In addition to basketball, young people participate in soccer, face-painting, chess-playing and other peaceable activities.
Eric Young Smith
Just during the weekend following the Hoops festival, all across Chicago, there were dozens wounded and seven killed—including two 16-year-old boys—as the bloodbath continued to frustrate police, politicians and community leaders. By mid-summer the city had endured more than 1,500 shootings and 300 homicides, the vast majority gang-related and involving young Hispanics and African-Americans on the South, Southwest and West sides.
“Some of my best friends have lost sons,” said Tony Campos, an Enlace volunteer, security guard at Farragut High School and father of a 16-year-old he considers still at risk.
“He still hangs out,” Campos said. “But thanks to Enlace not as much as he used to. They took him on a canoe-and-camping trip to Minnesota. That helped. Beats being on a street corner smoking weed.”
LISC Chicago and its community partners are actively involved in several evolving violence reduction strategies in addition to Hoops in the ’Hood. Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, is on the police department’s Violence Reduction Strategy advisory board. LISC is supporting two of its local partners as they work with the University of Chicago Crime Lab to develop better measurement tools to gauge program effectiveness. A Neighborhood Safety Initiative is being planned along with a Community Safety Symposium this fall. No potential solution will be overlooked, vowed Vasquez.
What young men need most, many at the Hoops festival agreed, is someone to look up to—someone like former Chicago Bulls star Bob “Butterbean” Love, who surveyed the assembled players from his 6’8” vantage and urged them all to “put as much effort into your GPA as gettin’ to the NBA.” Standing almost as tall, was referee Andre Bryant, youth director at NCP lead agency Lawndale Christian Development Corp., who explained the situation as well as anyone.
"A lot of people get 'jumped' on the street," said Jimmy Resendiz, who cherishes the opportunity to come together with friends from other parts of the neighborhood who live across gang boundaries.
Eric Young Smith
“It’s rough out there,” Bryant said between games. “To survive, they’ve got to have someone who’s on them, who’s willing to take an interest and mentor them. Most times that’s not the parents. Too many parents are kids themselves. So it’s grandparents and it’s leaders like you see all around here. This is what it takes.”
The Hoops in the Hood Cross-City Championship will take place on Saturday, Aug. 18 at Seward Park, 375 W. Elm St. For a full schedule of dates and places by neighborhood, please download this document.
More information citywide: Keri Blackwell kblackwell@LISC.org
Hoops contacts by neighborhood:
Posted in Safety, Little Village, North Lawndale