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8 Weeks to Change a City How basketball is fostering new relationships

8 Weeks is what a concerned community coalition of Police Officers, Pastors, Fire Fighters, Sheriffs, City Counsel-members, Health Advocates, and District Attorneys get in order to create relational-bridges between the City of Vallejo's youth and the adults investing in their lives. The Late Night Basketball event has been successfully running for 3 straight years for the eight weeks of summer break. The hours are 9 PM until 2 AM and the event provides a safe, burden-free environment to play basketball. These hours also offer the leaders of our community to provide mentoring to many of the youths who participate.

The amazing thing about this basketball event is that the kids get to see these working professionals in a new light. Although there are officers in attendance to support the event many show up without the uniform to play against these kids. It is a true thing to watch when a large group of youth, who grow up in todays troubling times of police brutality and racism from their perspective getting to see these officers and firefighters as regular people who just want to play basketball and see these kids succeed in life. When the badges come off the officers become just another team to play against. I like to call this process 'from us versus them, to shirts versus skins", meaning everyone is an opponent on the court not out on the streets.

Some of the participants from 2017 and 2018.

The summer program is designed to allow each participant the ability to sign up for affordable healthcare, have immediate vision and dental exams, HIV & STD screens, engage with the county District Attorney's office to discuss anything they want confidentially, receive educational guidance from numerous school resources (resumes, interviews, application-processes), mentoring and even spiritual help if needed. The kids are reminded over-and-over to take advantage of all the resources available. Some of the kids may even receive stipend funds for their work as referees or program leaders. We have seen several kids move on to enroll in college and even receive scholarships and job offers.

Video taken on my old iPhone 3. 2018

All images taken from Adobe Spark & Google images with exception of players photo. Taken by J.N.

As you have seen the Late Night program offers these young men and women several free options to take advantage of to improve their lives. The most important aspect of this 8 week event is the development and encouragement in fostering long-lasting relationships with these kids. They need to know that no matter what stressors they have in life, parents, school, girlfriends, boyfriends, or just plain-old life that they have people that actually care about their present situation and their future.

Does crime go down during these events? Image from Adobe Spark Images.

There is a lot of talk in our community as well as across the nation as to the benefit of these late night basketball programs. Some studies have shown surrounding community crime was reduced by 30% during the hours of participation. Is this due to the hundreds of kids playing basketball or because lives and choices are being changed by people who are learning to have a relationship. These 8 weeks is a short time span that is making lasting impressions in todays youth. I truly am seeing the difference between "Us versus Them, to Shirts versus Skins". No longer do we see a "Me" mindset, but we are seeing a "We" mindset from everyone involved, and I am so proud to be a part of this wonderful transformation.

8 Weeks is all it takes to change the lives of a community! Image from Google Images.

Credits:

All basketball photos taken by James Nielsen

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