Making the Basket

"I want something better to do than chillin' on the block" John (not his real name) told the group.

It was the second meeting of the Bronx Community Solutions basketball league, a program for young people aged 16 to 24 who have completed a program mandate with us, along with other at-risk young people. (Click here for pictures.)

Pretty soon, these young people would be hitting the basketball floor, but first we brought them together to hear what they were hoping to get out of the program.

About 40 percent of Bronx Community Solutions participants are between the ages of 16 and 24. Like all our participants, they lead complicated lives, but they can be a hard group to engage in voluntary services.

That's why I thought of the idea of a basketball league for program graduates and other young people. Basketball gets them in the door, but we also take the opportunity to offer them services. And it's clear that they need the help. Last night, five of the young men walked away with job referrals and seven of them registered for after school activities with SCAN Mullaly Academy, our partner in this endeavor. One of these young men, who had been evicted from his apartment last week, even received housing placement in a transitional living community.

After a couple of practices, the team will be playing against teams from the Departments of Corrections, Probation, and Parole; the New York Police Department; a team from the Police Athletic League; FEGS (Federation Employment and Guidance Services); and other after school teams in the Bronx.

Our goal is to bring young people and representatives of criminal justice agencies together in a positive way. In the process, we hope they'll start to see each other from a different perspective - as friendly competitors and even teammates, instead of antagonists.

Captain Muhammad, from the Department of Corrections, stopped by last night to watch the game and to show his support for bridging the gap between the court and the community. He is prepared to "give the young guys a good game" and it is clear that he means business.

Although last night’s game was just a scrimmage, it was an important step for court-community relations: disconnected youth were reconnected to the support structures that will help them bring their A game to whatever positive opportunities await them in the future.

(For a slide show from the event, please click here.)