by Bernice Elizabeth Green
There’s another ingredient to Brooklyn festivals. In addition to the obligatory food, fun and festivity, a key component is unity of purpose and recognition of the remarkable in ourselves and in others.
Last weekend, the annual Sonny Lewis All-Star Memorial Basketball Tournament under the direction Samantha Lewis, daughter of the neighborhood legend, returned to St. Andrews Playground at Atlantic/Kingston, with all of the elements in place.
A host of fans, families, and supporters observed the teams’ actions on the courts and they showed up to honor the event’s namesake, an educator, counselor, and grassroots humanitarian, who cared enough about the young people in the neighborhood to spend many years mentoring, encouraging and empowering the youth. The former math teacher and Edward R. Murrow H.S. evening gym instructor used the basketball as a metaphoric teaching tool and the courts at St. Andrews as a sports university, of sorts.
Our Time Press talked to three of Lewis’ closest friends, Roland Allbright, Fred Moore and Ali Aziz, as they and Samantha were packing up, and musing on the 2024 tournament to come.
They told us Lewis, who passed June 28, 1993, saw those courts as a stage where stars could be born, and lives changed or redirected. Sonny, father of four, grandfather of 10, and great-grandfather of 7, included his neighborhood as family, his wife, Mrs. Lewis, told an interviewer. “Basketball was Sonny’s life,” she said, and encouraging young people to reach high was his mission.
“He worked with young people, and would always say that no matter what, they could make something of their lives. If they couldn’t be an athlete, they could do something else. They could still be part of the game. They could use these courts to learn how to coach, how to referee, how to be a future leader.”
So, while the annual tournaments are dedicated to keeping his memory alive, the Lewis family and friends are deep into an ongoing five-year effort to landmark her father’s legacy: by renaming the park from Andrews/Kingston to Sonny Lewis.
According to Roland, Fred and Aziz that quest — five years in the building — is picking up momentum throughout the neighborhood, as they learn more about the man who would grow kings on the court. “Sonny died doing what he loved doing, coaching a basketball game,” Roland told us, pointing to the spot where his friend passed. “Now, we must acknowledge his gift, and give back!”
That may come sooner than later. The park recently received “major” funds for repairs and renovations, with the date for reconstruction completion set for as early as next summer — just in time for the 2024 Sonny Lewis All-Star Memorial Basketball Tournaments, and possibly a renaming ceremony.
A video of the Friday, August 10 happenings is available for viewing on YouTube: DIAMOND VIDEO PRESENTS SONNY LEWIS OPENING FAMILY DAY 2023