The Rev. Christopher Devron and Christ the King Jesuit College Prep will join forces with NBA legend and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas and activist Tio Hardiman Saturday to host a basketball tournament to bring together young men from rival gangs for dialogue and a day of shooting hoops.
The 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. event at the high school, 5088 W. Jackson Blvd., is meant to address gang activity that has triggered an epidemic of shootings and homicides on Chicago’s South and West Sides. The event will raise awareness about the violence and show a peaceful alternative to the lifestyle that perpetuates it.
“The Peace Tournament proves that when youth who are most likely to become victims and agents of violent crime seek common ground, they can join forces to form a united front for peace and nonviolence, and take a courageous stand against guns and gangs that plague their neighborhoods and our city,” Devron, president of Christ the King, said in press release.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is praising the event – the second Peace Tournament held this fall – because of its emphasis on community building and gang-busting on some of the city’s meanest streets in the Austin neighborhood.
“Christ the King has a proven program to help students from difficult neighborhoods succeed, and by hosting the Peace Tournament they are showing what it means to be good steward in their community,” Emanuel said in the release. “The Peace Tournament promotes the partnerships we need to get gangs, guns and drugs off our streets.”
In September, the first tournament was held at St. Sabina Church in the Auburn-Gresham community on the South Side. It was co-hosted by Thomas and the Rev. Michael Pfleger.
Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, Quentin Richardson, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and other players served as celebrity coaches and took part in discussions about how to become peace builders before and after the games. The participants returned to their community and were urged to share a message of peace.
Hall of Famer Thomas of the Detroit Pistons, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side, said he believes the game’s benefits can be lasting.
“By getting gang members and other community teens together to play a sport, they have the opportunity to get to know each other better on the basketball court,” said Thomas in the release. “We believe that it is hard to kill someone if you get to know him.”
The free, one-of-a-kind tournament, which is open to the public, aims to get rival street factions together to communicate and build relationships, said Hardiman, director of CeaseFire, whose son is a freshman at Christ the King.
Clifton “Booney” McFowler, a former West Side gang member, is also helping with the event, in hopes of becoming part of the solution rather than the problem.
The event will kick off with a scrimmage between Christ the King basketball teams and Michele Clark High School’s teams, followed by a four-team tournament of players ages 15 to 18, some of whom are affiliated with various gangs from West Side neighborhoods, and have agreed to lay down their conflicts to compete.
The games will be followed by open conversations about how to embrace peace and non-violence facilitated by Devron, the Rev. Marshall Hatch and members of the LEADERS Network, Thomas, Hardiman, McFowler and Christ the King student leaders.
Zeke Thomas, international DJ and producer, as well as the official DJ of the NBA All-Star Weekend, will provide event entertainment and spin between games and breaks. Zeke, whose debut album releases in early 2013, brings his own passion and connection to the Peace Tournament as a long-time supporter of nonprofit causes, and is the son of event sponsor Isiah Thomas.