May 18, 2014

Mayor's Basketball Classic aims to promote stronger bond between police officers, community

The first-year tournament was a part of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin's Youth Sports Initiative and was held in the gymnasium at Greenview Park in North Columbia.
The police department, along with four other teams of young men around the Midlands, participated in the event Friday.

Benjamin said the greater goal of the tournament was to strengthen the bond of the community as well as form a positive relationship between police officers and Columbia's youth.

"So often we're setting policy, whether it's in law enforcement policy or even trying to develop youth sports programs, that we're usually talking at young people and not talking to them, not talking with them," he said.

Benjamin and 18-year-old Sharon Malone worked together to make the tournament happen. Malone is a former gang member who lost his best friend, Willie Gilmore, in a fatal shooting in November.

Malone is also the founder of Stop the Violence Movement in Columbia and said he wanted to use this tournament so the youth participating and the officers could connect and learn more about each other.

"I think it's good for the police and regular people, the civilians, (that they) can come together and realize the police aren't bad," he said. "They're normal people. They just have a uniform on and that's just their job."

"We can all get along and come together," Malone said.

He said using social media, specifically Facebook, was a huge help in promoting the tournament and helping teams find out how to participate.

Jeremiah Kelly is involved in the Stop the Violence Movement and participated in the tournament. Kelly said he used to be part of a gang and that putting on an event like the tournament can help lead Columbia's youth to a positive path.

"I've been down that road," he said. "I just wanted to show everybody that road is not the way (to go). We're just rebuilding what we destroyed. We're just bringing the community together today to show we are better people than from our past."

Joining Kelly in the tournament was private investigator Lance Reeves, a member of the police department team who played against Kelly's squad.

Reeves said he thought participating in the tournament really helped bring in youth and showed them a positive experience.

"I think it helps bring us closer to the community and so that we're all on the same page," Reeves said. "We can work as a group and work together to keep kids off the streets and give them a positive outlook on life."

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