One man's effort to keep Minneapolis teens away from crimeby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Minneapolis has seen 23 homicides so far this year, four more than last year's total.
Community meetings and discussions surrounding this year's uptick in violence frequently revolve around the fate of young black men, who are often the victims and perpetrators of violent crime.
One man is making an effort to keep black men from becoming crime statistics.
Every week Jamil Jackson convenes a mentoring program and basketball league at the Jerry Gamble Boys and Girls Club in north Minneapolis.
Jackson talks with young men, 14 to 19 years old, in the gym. And like sprinters waiting for the starting gun, they are itching to get on the court and have at it.
But Jackson has other plans for them. Before they shoot hoops, they gather in a room just off the gym.
"OK, this is the start of the CEO session," Jackson explained.
CEO stands for Change Equals Opportunity, a mentoring program Jackson developed. Jackson is also co-director of the basketball league called Run and Shoot.
There are eight teams in the league, and nine players to a team. Two teams start the evening in the mandatory mentoring session while another two teams are on the court. Mentoring sessions can include guest speakers, or chats about relationships and career goals.
Tonight Jackson wants the guys to watch some of a documentary called "More than a Game," which features NBA star LeBron James.
Jackson pushes play on the DVD player and gets ready to leave the young men to watch the movie. But he stops it and rewinds the film to make sure they absorb the first 30 seconds, which explains that basketball is a vehicle to get from point A to point B, not just a game.
Back in the gym, Jackson watches a blur of red and blue uniformed teens on the court. Basketball is a vehicle for this program too.
Jackson wants to be the role model he didn't have as a teenager. His father wasn't always there for him as he was growing up. But now his father and brothers are coaches and mentors in the program.
Jackson says he has an idea of where some of these young men would be if they weren't in the gym.
"In my opinion, they'd be either hanging on somebody's street corner or in somebody's house, where drugs and alcohol are allowed. And I'm not saying that's all of them, but the majority of them," said Jackson. "There's a lot of kids I have here that are in group homes. So it's an outlet for them to get to know other kids."
Jackson wants the kids to learn discipline, respect for others and other life skills that will help them off the court. Players earn points for being on time, for attending team meetings and completing their required weekly five hours of community service. They can lose points for being late and for getting technical fouls.
The points can be used as money to buy t-shirts and wristbands from the league, or to buy food from the concession stand at the Boys and Girls Club.
Jackson, 33, is a single father of three. He teaches construction classes at Dunwoody Academy High School. He's also a volunteer youth coach at another north side park. He coaches a sixth grade basketball team that plays in tournaments in other parts of the country.
Jackson doesn't get paid for this so he goes door-to-door for donations. He often has to put up his own money to keep everything afloat.
"As much as I dislike paying out of my pocket, these kids can't miss out on the opportunity because I can't find funding yet, or somebody's too tight to support these kids," Jackson said.
Jackson returns to the room just off the gymnasium, where some of the players have watched part of the basketball documentary. He gets the sense that many of them weren't paying attention.
"OK, so what's interesting about the movie to you?" Jackson asked.
"How long they stayed together for! Sixth grade? That's a long time," one young man said.
Jackson also suspects some of the guys are not taking their commitment to the CEO program seriously, and he reminds them that if they don't follow the rules they won't play basketball.
He hopes having a few hours a week with these kids is enough to make a difference.
Jackson plans to expand the league to include younger kids. His goal is to get the high school age players to coach the younger kids and referee the games. He wants young people to broadcast the games and post video on the league's website.
"So, I'm dreaming big here, said Jackson. "But if you're not dreaming big, why are you dreaming, I guess?"