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Midnight Basketball Initiative is the Superman of the Streets

A program from the 80s is back in full effect and looks to save more Black youth.

The Association of Midnight Basketball, a program that was funded by the Clinton administration in the 1990s, is an initiative that provides a refuge for young people — the majority being Black men.

“This is almost like our own safe sanctuary, “ JuMaal Hill, a 46-year-old police officer who serves as the West regional director of the Midnight Basketball and the director of the Oakland Police Activities League, said to the New York Times.

With basketball being about trust, the Association of Midnight Basketball aims to build bonds, especially in inner cities such as Oakland, where that kind of love can be found in gangs. According to the Oakland Police Department, as of September 26, 137 of the 450 shootings and homicides were group- and gang-related.

The program was founded in 1986, when G. Van Standifer, the town manager of Glenarden, Maryland, began the inaugural chapter in his city to keep young men off the streets on Friday nights.

Then known as the National Association of Midnight Basketball League, the cause expanded across the country with chapters in 50 cities. According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, “cities that were early adopters of officially-sanctioned midnight basketball leagues experienced sharper decreases in property crime rates than other American cities.”

President Bill Clinton earmarked $50 million to nationalize the program, which was a part of the 1994 crime bill. But the funding was removed following the program being criticized by Republicans in Congress.

By 2004, there were just nine chapters left. But today, there are 20 chapters, and Oakland’s chapter encapsulates the organization’s mission. The league comprises up to 16 10-player teams for each eight-to-10-week session and operates on a yearly budget ranging from $150,000 to $180,000, according to Howard Gamble, the league’s director. The program’s two biggest sponsors are Kaiser Permanente and the Alameda County Probation Department, according to the New York Times.

Also, on game nights, players receive jerseys and meals, while also attending life skills workshops where guest speakers convey conflict resolution, employment opportunities, probation, and parole, among other topics.

With crime transpiring across the country, Midnight Basketball offers an alternative approach to crime prevention.

Kevin Grant, an ex-convict who runs the workshops, took centerstage for a few hours before the championship in Oakland to discuss a shooting of a young man at a recent peewee football game.

“When I see you guys embracing each other and activating like that, it makes me emotional,” Grant said. “This is where we should be.”

What’s more, there is an uneasy truce between the players and the police in Oakland in which officers don’t arrest folks in the initiative on game nights.

“I’m sure the police could get a whole bunch of stats out of this gym, with arrest warrants and different things,” Hill said. “We don’t bring that up in here…”


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