In May, Mayor Jorge Elorza announced that he would be bringing back the midnight basketball leagues as a way to combat the violence that is so often associated with Providence. The league features 24 teams and has games played on Tuesday and Thursday nights across the city at Bucklin, Davey Lopes, Davis and Gano parks. Kobi Dennis, community activist and founder of Project Night Vision, was instrumental in bringing the league back to the capitol city. “You’re less likely to attack or abuse (or) to even insult anyone you know (and) share the court with, share a drink with, (or) hang out with,” he says about the goals of Midnight Basketball. Advocates like Elorza and Dennis are not claiming that these basketball leagues are going to wipe violence away, but merely that it is a step in the right direction. The majority of the $30,000 budget for Midnight Basketball is coming from donations, so this is not a crippling investment for the city.
Midnight Basketball kicked off this Tuesday and by most accounts was a success. Still, if you Google “Providence Midnight Basketball,” the first headline you are met with is 2 Providence Men Shot After Midnight Basketball Game. The article is accompanied by comments filled with outrage, labeling the league a failure. How could a program aimed towards stopping violence end in a shooting on its first day? If you were to scroll down you would see the headlines Police: No Correlation Between Shooting, Midnight Basketball and Providence Scores With Midnight Basketball League. Somehow we have conflicting reports of the connection between these two events.
Here are the facts: The games kicked off around 9:00 PM at Davis Park and ended a little earlier than midnight. 38-year-old Dujuan Tavares and 46-year-old Maurice Newson, spectators at the event, left and headed back to the Chad Brown housing projects. They were shot, non-fatally, in a drive-by on Donelson St, in the heart of Chad Brown, around 1:00 AM. Now without speculating too much, I would say that the shooting is more likely to be related to the two murders that occurred just days before, one on Canal St downtown and one on Nebraska St in Washington Park, than to the basketball game the victims attended over an hour earlier. Chad Brown has had a deep rooted feud with gangs from the East Side, one that has boiled over of late and is not going to die overnight. Now it is impossible to say why this particular shooting took place Tuesday night but it is fairly safe to rule out the Midnight Basketball game and this is what makes the news headline so problematic. This shooting was reported to be related to the game by numerous news sites, despite the loose association.
This issue was addressed on Facebook by Richard “Knight” Norris, a guidance counselor at Jorge Alvarez High School and Providence resident. “Dear local media outlets, This headline could have been written in so many other ways, but in your very own vindictive way, you decided to frame it like this. Of course you all usually have a motive when commenting on anything in my neighborhood (the place the darker people live). I am assuming by this title, you were trying to connect violence with a community event that is so positive. Good job.” I encourage you to read the rest of his response here.
Norris’s response hits the issue right on the head. Why are news outlets so quick to jump on the negatives rather than focus on the positive. It’s true, a spike in violence, including three murders, in the days surrounding the launch of an anti-violence initiative is deflating but that does not make it a failure. Violence in the city almost always comes in spurts, often due to retaliations. In one of our sites first articles I wrote about the sudden influx of violence in the city. After that article came out, there was a month of relative quiet and it is very likely that this pattern will repeat itself soon. Since Norris’s Facebook post was shared so many times, Turnto10 went back and revised their article to not mention the basketball league. Still, the damage has already been done. There are still many outlets that didn’t change their headlines and the majority of people who read the Turnto10 article probably never went to follow up on the story. Instead of realizing that this headline was a careless error, they will operate under the belief that Midnight Basketball has been marred by a shooting.
The Midnight Basketball League is not the only basketball program that is aimed at ending violence in the city. Former Johnson And Wales basketball star and NCAA leading scorer, Lamonte Thomas, started a program called Play For Peace. The south side native, Thomas, who attended Central High School and currently plays overseas, has a history of giving back to the community that he is from. He has now helped to start the Build PVD program that hosted Play For Peace at Alvarez just over a week ago. The event featured a high school players vs. cops game, a game featuring professional players from all over New England as well as a forum where the players spoke to the kids in attendance. The event was a success, attended by the New York Knicks’ Ricky Ledo and Young Money rapper Euro. Thomas did not stop with Play For Peace, as in the time since he has hosted youth basketball camps at Alvarez for kids living in the inner city. He has also said that he plans to have events that don’t have to do with basketball, like forums and fashion shows, in order to reach a wider audience. Thomas understands how hard it can be for kids and how important it is for adults in the city to help them. In an interview with Projo’s Bill Reynolds, Thomas said “It shouldn’t be this hard; there should be more people around here trying to change things. Because it’s getting worse. We are trying to save a generation here.”
While the city of Providence struggles with ongoing violence and poverty, important figures like Elorza, Dennis, Norris and Thomas are trying to make a difference. The formation of the Midnight Basketball League and Play For Peace is a way of getting kids involved in this process. Basketball is a sport played and loved by kids of all backgrounds from around the city. While a sport can never solve all of the city’s problems it is one of the few ways to reach people. In the words of Elorza, “Times are tough in the city, so resources are scarce. That just means we have to be resourceful.”