Nonviolence group strives to stop violence with hoops and hope
On a recent Friday night, some of Chicago’s most dangerous and endangered people played basketball at a complex in Hyde Park.
The Chicago CRED Basketball Tournament, an ad hoc program of basketball games, was drawing to a close, with the team in black jerseys ahead 48-39 over the team in white.
It might have surprised college kids running baseball drills across the gym to know that both teams are made up of some of the most likely victims – or perpetrators – of gun violence in Chicago.
The players are mostly young men, all gang affiliated and hail from the South Side communities of Roseland or West Pullman, where CRED has established a network of outreach workers over the past three years.
Based on CRED’s analysis of recent shootings and arrests, as well as outreach workers gleaned from the streets, one of the 16 players who showed up for the game is around 25 times more likely to be shot than an average Chicagoan. Most are unaware of the exact calculation that goes into the CRED formula, but they are keenly aware of the unique risks they face when trying to find a basketball game.
“I’m not going to lie, I can’t play basketball on any Chicago court, but there are places I can play,” said Jamil Hayes, a lanky, broad-shouldered 25-year-old who most of the scoring for the white team.
The ability of the hoops was not the reason Hayes was recruited for the game; his recent life experience and social network have made him a target for CRED – and gang rivals. A former high school student and AAU league player, Hayes found his place in games almost every day until last September, when his ankle was shattered by a bullet outside a friend’s house.
As he appeared in court for the CRED game, he turned his mind away from the murder of a close friend days earlier in Rockford – a murder Hayes witnessed via spooky doorbell camera video who made the news in the upstate.
Despite the material still in his ankle, Hayes hurtles down the field with abandon, handing out assists to teammates who could be mortal enemies – if he were to ask what block they were living on.
With his team behind by nine points as the clock ticked, Hayes missed a free throw, another bad rebound in the course of a tough week. Instead of running back to defend the quick break that followed, he dropped to the floor and scowled at his trainer, CRED Outreach Coordinator Terrence Henderson.
Final score: Hayes’ white team 39, black team 50.
“You do this to me every week!” Hayes complains.
Henderson shrugs. After the game, he will admit that he indeed piled the rosters every week so that Hayes’ side were understaffed. Hayes is precisely the kind of high-risk gamer Henderson wants to recruit into CRED’s intensive cognitive-behavioral therapy, vocational training and job placement program. He would also like to attract some of Hayes’ associates.
“I know if (Hayes) doesn’t win because he doesn’t have teammates, he’s going to go out and recruit his boys and bring them in,” Henderson said with a smile. “These are the guys we want to be here.”
The basketball leagues are not an official component of CRED’s anti-violence efforts, which were launched in 2016 with a multi-million dollar grant from Palo Alto-based Emerson Collective, a charity founded by Laurene Powell Jobs. The league was formed within days in early September, when CRED staff were unable to crush a bitter feud between gang factions on the south side.
Henderson oversees a team of 18 outreach workers, most of them former South Side gang members who roam the streets of Roseland and West Pullman on a daily basis with a list of candidates for the program.
Outreach workers are also rushing to the scene of every shooting scene in both neighborhoods – reaching out to relatives of the victims and trying to uncover the story behind the violence, so they can contact the shooters as well.
Newly shot young men are often less receptive to help and empowerment, even when the offer includes paid training and, in some cases, housing assistance. They have immediate concerns that make long term change seem unlikely. And on average, CRED participants were contacted by outreach workers almost three dozen times before enrolling in the two-year program.
For months, outreach workers also try to negotiate peace deals between rival gang groups; this summer, they had organized truces between a dozen factions. But by the end of August, that fragile peace was unraveling as a gang clique based on 118th Street exchanged shootings with one on 119th Street. During that month, clashes led to two fatal shootings, and outreach workers were unable to defuse the conflict.
CRED staff investigated and believed the shooters were part of a faction of the Latin Kings that CRED had not yet penetrated, although the 118th and 119th Street groups were targeting each other due to barking misinterpreted on social networks. Convincing the rival factions was proving difficult. As Labor Day weekend approached, Henderson’s team needed to get high-risk players off the streets and put them to safety.
Henderson, himself a former gang member, made his debut as a nonviolent activist nearly a decade ago, recruiting other gangsters to play in the Church Peace League St. Sabina. Since coming to work for CRED five years ago, he had considered creating a similar tournament for the Far South Side. This summer, he rushed to prepare the first CRED game, with the help of the nonprofit PeacePlayers, in a matter of days.
The first games were played on Labor Day weekend on grounds outside Gately Park, but that limited the appeal for players involved in gangs CRED was trying to recruit.
“Young people love athletics. They will do a lot to be able to get into a game, ”said Henderson. “A lot of these guys are too hot to go to a park and hoop because they don’t know who’s going to pass.”
The next round of games was indoors at Pullman, but the evening’s hoops were called off around the middle of the two-hour session, after a car shouted through the parking lot and a passenger shot at a parked car.
When games resumed two weeks later, streaks of black tires still marked the path of the shooters’ car through the parking lot, and nation of Islam security guards in bow ties hired by CRED patted each player on the floor. their arrival.
Since filming, Henderson has asked most of the players to board a windowless van to travel to games together, hoping to gain less attention from rivals than to show up in their own. cars.
Players are reminded not to pull out their phones or post their location on social media, so rivals don’t know where they are. The location of the final match has been changed several times, the Pullman courts have been reserved for doubles; the move to the Hyde Park gymnasium was finalized just hours before the denunciation.
Confusion likely hurt turnout, which dropped to about half for the final game, and the ad hoc nature of the games seemed to offend Henderson’s sense of professionalism. The games he’s hosted with St. Sabina’s featured appearances by Bulls players and other NBA stars, and Henderson envisions greater production value when the CRED league resumes around Thanksgiving.
Henderson considers the inaugural league a success. While the play on the floor included plenty of bobbled passes and ill-advised jump shots, the rest of the scene could pass for a high-end leisure league. Players wear matching and numbered jerseys. Two referees walk around the field, two PeacePlayers staff record the points and keep the clock. Henderson and his opposing coaches barked encouragement from the side of the court.
Despite the lopsided score throughout the game, there is little chatter. In 40 minutes of play, there aren’t even any particularly hard faults. It could have been a religious league, observes a PeacePlayers marker.
“We’re not really working with this age group or this (at-risk) population,” said Angela Johnson, head of PeacePlayers. “But on the pitch, everything went very well.”
The games gave the CRED outreach team a few hours with young men with whom they would otherwise have the chance to spend a few minutes on the streets.
Hayes’ best friend had been in the CRED program for over a year, but Hayes began the process of becoming a full participant in the CRED program just a few weeks ago. Once enrolled, he will devote approximately 40 hours per week to the CRED program.
As Hayes left the field in a funk after another loss, Henderson expects him to return for Friday’s basketball as well.
“He’s crazy,” Henderson said. “But he’s going to be back with some of his boys.”