One Hood: Forming Connections On & Off the Court

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On July 12th, we tipped-off our eleventh year of the One Hood Basketball League, providing a safe space for local teenagers to “just play ball and not worry,” as Angel Lopez, our One Hood Commissioner said. At first look, it may not seem that Boston’s neighborhood streets can be a “battleground” for some, but as former South End District Officer Jorge Dias explained, “It’s hard to be a good kid now because there’s so much pressure from the bad kids to either join a gang or to be like them. A lot of these kids come from tough family lives. A large percentage have single parents, or siblings/parents that are involved in drugs, and they have little or no food. It’s making it very tough for the youth to just be themselves.”

These young people deserve alternative outlets to express themselves, form new relationships, and forget about these harsh daily realities and just be teenagers. Over the last decade, we have striven to provide these opportunities to local teens with our One Hood Peace Basketball League. “We’re showing them a different type of family on the court, compared to the ones they already have outside. Showing them that you can make friendships with different neighborhoods, where they know that outside [their neighborhoods] clash,” described Lopez. “Because of basketball it gives them a connection to walk into other neighborhoods and not be afraid.”

This summer, we had our largest opening day turnout ever — 55 players ages 13 to 19 years old from neighborhoods across Boston (South End, Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Brighton, and more). They formed a total of 6 teams with 12 coaches (one head and one assistant per team) who are active and familiar community members, “The kids I usually hire to help coach are former players,” said Lopez. He described the coaches as the best people to help the league overcome one of its biggest challenges, “Years go on and kids get older, so getting newer kids to buy into the league being safe for them, that nothing will happen if there’s a kid from Cathedral and they’re from the Villa….that there won’t be fights.” When a potential player is unsure about joining the league, Lopez said, “I always say to ask the coaches if they’re worried” because, at one point, “they gave it a chance and it worked out fine.”

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Off the court, these coaches become role models and mentors to these boys and girls, including Lopez, who explained, “It’s different connections around the neighborhood.” Lopez has helped students find work with local stores as well as with our Youth Development Program as Peer Leaders. “I always tell them, if you need a ride to an interview, if you want me there because you’re nervous, I’ll be there. I have no problem doing that.” He’s even helped some of the older players and young coaches take the next steps toward achieving their education and career goals by connecting them to our College and Financial Empowerment Program.

We’re doing our best to give these youth a safe space both in our league and by forming cross turf relationships that go well beyond the basketball court, so our players form friendships that extend well beyond the summer. “Because of basketball it gives them a connection to walk into other neighborhoods and not be afraid. It makes them feel safe that they have friends in other neighborhoods.”

In a time when young people are hard pressed to find things they can connect with, this program resonates with them, “Basketball is a family thing, not like books or anything like that. This is something bigger,” explained Lopez.

Our programs would not be a success without your support. If you would like to cheer on our One Hood League during a game this summer, check out the full summer schedule here. Or, you can make a contribution so that we can continue to improve and expand our efforts, click here to donate.

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