By Mary Alice Miller
An entire summer of antiviolence mentoring via basketball came down to one intense final tournament. In an effort to curb gun violence in Brownsville, the Brooklyn Blizzards Youth organization hosted the games that attracted youth ages 16-19 from local neighborhoods. Competing teams played hard, scoring 3-pointers and in-your-face dunks. Howard Houses’ home team, The Big Skip All-Stars, won in overtime 118-117 – the highest-scoring game ever in Howard Houses — over The Chosen Few, who gave as good as they got on the court.
“The program was cool. I had fun. Everybody was out here. I liked it,” game MVP Joseph said. “I feel excited about winning. MVP: 42 (points). Can’t beat it.” He added, “It was hard work. I was cramping up – my leg. But it was worth it.”
“It was a fun experience. The championship and everything. We stayed out of trouble,” said Justin, one of two team members recognized for his supporting play. How did he feel about winning? “It was great.”
When asked if he would recommend the summer program for the next generation coming up behind him, Joseph’s expression turned serious. “Yeah, too much violence out here. Violence went down (decreased). It’s not people, it’s the kids. Kids just be wilding,” he said. “This helped, but a lot more work needs to be done.”
According to Program Director and Founder of the Brooklyn Blizzards Anthony Newerls, the initiative covered over 600 kids in Brownsville in four different sites. It was very important that they played basketball at the same time on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. “Therefore, kids can’t come from other developments to start trouble. We had seven weeks of nonviolence except for 1 or 2 incidents – isolated from the basketball tournament,” said Newerls. “We are very proud that no incident took place and no one was killed.”
Quite a few handguns were turned in via the Increase the Peace initiative. In addition, Newerls said, “We have squashed quite a few disturbances that might not have been able to be squashed had this initiative not taken place.”
Youth felt safe participating because of how the program was designed. Adults guaranteed before the tournament started that if outsider youth participants have disagreements, they were not allowed to come into the park to start trouble. All participants agreed and signed a contract that stated as long as they are members of the Increase the Peace Tournament — at any site — they would engage in nonviolent activity. “That came with turning in handguns, helping diffuse situations, and even coming to us, trusting us with handguns knowing that we are not going to ask any questions, we are just going to try to resolve the situation,” Newerls said.
A decrease in violent crime was just one of the benefits from Increase the Peace 2012.
Assistant coach Chris Jones came to the tournament scouting talent for Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). With one eye on MVP Joseph, Jones said, “I’m about to sign him up now. His talent is inevitable. We need kids like that.” Jones has already recruited Rashawn (from The Chosen Few) into BMCC.
“I believe, as a black man, it is my duty to help brothers such as him to become a better man. It’s up to me to help them get through challenges,” said Jones. “I am a father first. I tell the kids, ‘don’t call me coach;’ I’m just an older black man here to help younger black men become better men.”
Out of the 600 kids who participated in this year’s Increase the Peace, about 50 of them had summer jobs. Newerls sent quite a few of them down to the arena to apply for employment. “We have pictures of them with their uniforms, so they will be employed when the Barclays Center opens,” said Newerls. “That’s a start.”
Newerls and his team of anti-violence activists look forward to more funding to create more activities. “There are another 2-3000 more kids in Brownsville who don’t play basketball, and are in need other activities,” said Newerls. “This is something we can take to the mayor, elected officials and the police commissioner and say with funding, we can help you reduce crime in any community, not just Brownsville.”