When Dunwoody Academy moved into North High’s building in 2010, Minneapolis Public Schools ruled that two high school sports programs couldn’t run out of the same location. “But we still had a lot of kids at the school who wanted to play [basketball],” recalls Jamil Jackson, then the school’s boys’ JV coach.
As a result, he assembled a traveling team to play in local and regional AAU and youth basketball tournaments. However, Jackson soon found that even this didn’t supply sufficient opportunities for other youngsters he knew who wanted to play.
“So I figured I’d start a league,” he says now of that important decision.
Run & Shoot now operates twice weekly on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons at North Minneapolis’ Farview Park. Each of the eight teams is named after HBCUs: Howard, Grambling, Jackson State, Morehouse College, Norfolk State, Tuskegee University, Southern University and Bethune Cookman.
Eighty percent of the nearly 140 male participants ages 14-19 are Northsiders, says Jackson.
Each player must do two hours of community service each week along with paying the $40 participation fee. “They either do that by volunteering here doing [game] stats [or] helping clean up,” Jackson points out. Although there are payment plans if needed, he adds that the $40 fee averages out to only about $3 a game.
Also, each participant must attend Change Equals Opportunity (CEO) sessions weekly, either before their scheduled game or immediately afterwards. “If a kid misses two consecutive games or two consecutive CEO sessions, they’re back on the waiting list and somebody comes off the waiting list and takes their place,” states the director, who points out that there are around 40 currently on the waiting list.
“I like it that I’m able to come play basketball, and also the CEO sessions are nice,” proclaims first-year participant Alfonso Jones, 18, who plans to attend Triton (Ill.) College this fall to study psychology.
“Basketball is just the carrot,” continues Jackson. “This is about teaching them how to deal with adversity, how to communicate and bring the leaders out of the ones who are going to become leaders. It’s about life skills.”
Unfortunately, among the CEO discussions this summer was the Trayvon Martin verdict. Jackson recently took 40 kids to see the Fruitvale Station movie, which is based on real life events.
“It was interesting,” he recalls of the Saturday night field trip. “Some of them didn’t really care to see it at first because they didn’t know what it was about. After they got done seeing it, a lot of them were angry and mad about the outcome of the movie. We came back here and had a pizza party and a discussion about what it is [like] to be a Black man in America.
“You have to be mindful of how you act and how you react to certain situations,” explains Jackson. “I believe that’s one thing our schools aren’t teaching our kids, and that’s critical thinking.”
The 16-week league is winding down, expected to conclude after its playoffs September 8.
“If we can create more programs like this that engage the kids… I think we need to have a football program, a soccer program or whatever it is that is going to catch the kids, and from there we can grow our future leaders,” concludes Jackson. “We have a lot of kids in our community that want something out of life.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.