Special basketball league helping youth

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Melvin Johnson, then an investigator with the Chicago Housing Authority police department, was tired of seeing at-risk youth being locked up.

Melvin Johnson, then an investigator with the Chicago Housing Authority police department, was tired of seeing at-risk youth being locked up.

So in 1996, he started a nonprofit organization that allows them to bounce away from troubles: The Teenage Basketball Association.

It is geared toward youth–both boys and girls–as young as 10 and as old as 25. The youth who have participated have predominately been Black boys and about 75 percent of the participants graduate from high school and go on to attend college, according to 49-year-old Johnson.

To date, 1,000 youth have been a part of the organization that awards college scholarships, provides job and entrepreneur training, mentoring and after-school activities such as tutoring and basketball.

TBA kids compete in basketball tournaments at parks throughout the Chicago area. By doing so, Johnson said it allows them to see what it is like to work as a team, meet deadlines and experience success.

The only requirement for youth to join is to have a C-plus average in school or be currently enrolled in a GED program. Ex-offenders are also allowed to participate.

Johnson said the choice was simple on how to help at-risk youth.

“I didn’t want to be part of the problem so I came up with a solution to help our youth,” Johnson told the Defender. “The criminal justice system has swallowed our Black youth, especially boys, and with no real solution in sight, I decided to do what I could to help.”

Johnson serves as the organization’s executive director while also working as a full-time park supervisor in west suburban Oak Park. And thanks to funding from the City of Chicago, this summer the TBA was able to hire 18 youth as interns.

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