Vicksburg Police Department's streetball program started as a way for police officers to interact with youth in the community in a positive way over a game of basketball, but it's growing into something even bigger than that
VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — Vicksburg Police Department’s streetball program started as a way for police officers to interact with youth in the community in a positive way over a game of basketball, but it’s growing into something even bigger than that.
The program runs from Tuesday through Friday, 4-10 p.m. during the summer a Vicksburg Junior High, and while the shoot-arounds and half court games with the officers and the youth participants are a big part of the program, Sgt. Tommy Curtis explained that the program was meant to be fun for everyone.
“I think (the local youth) get more out of this program than what the name of it is,” Curtis said. “A lot of people think street ball and think we just play basketball, and you have your kids that like basketball, but there’s also kids in the cafeteria doing arts and crafts, the young ladies like to hula hoop and jump rope, stuff like that, and we have kickball that’s part of the program. So it’s not just basketball, but the majority of the kids like basketball, but we do all types of activities. We ask the kids what they want and we try to give it to them.”
One attendee, Shondrea Parson, has been going to the streetball program since 2009.
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“We have fun, we communicate with the police and they make us feel like we’re comfortable in Vicksburg,” Parson said.
With 250 youth in the surrounding community signed up, the program has very good attendance, and Curtis and the other officers want to use that to help them grow. Curtis said they’d seen kids who came to the program at a young age develop better communication skills and make friends firsthand.
“This program is great for the community, because it gives us the opportunity to hang out with the kids and fellowship with them, but the most important thing is it gives us something positive to do so they won’t get in any kind of trouble during the summer,” Curtis said. “In the process of being here, we’re able to speak with the kids and talk with them about various things that go on in the community and try to prevent crime.”
One of the methods they’re using to do that is bringing in guest speakers from different backgrounds and occupations to talk with the attendees.
“We try to educate the kids as well, through structured things, such as guest speakers from different areas and career paths, so I think this program will really help our young people by being here, they get a chance to be around law enforcement officers and all the speakers that come in and talk to them about their particular fields and everything,” Curtis said.
The streetball program is taking that education a step further this year, as they will be taking attendees on a field trips to see the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.
The trips will take place on Tuesdays, and include 30-35 attendees until everyone in the program has a chance to go.
“We just want to educate our kids on history,” Curtis said. “It’s just something for them to be able to learn about. Not to say that they might not be learning about it at home, but we know that as a community and as a police department, that we’re educating kids about history. I think it’s going be a great trip. I think it will open their eyes, and I think it’ll give them an opportunity to think outside the box. A lot of these kids don’t get an opportunity to go to various places, so something that we want to start providing is taking them outside of the gymnasium’s four walls and into the community to do things.”
Curtis said they have seen tangible results from the program.
“When this program is going on, our crime rate goes down in the city of Vicksburg, and it’s a great opportunity for the kids to have something to do and be in here playing,” Curtis continued.
“It’s a positive environment, and we just want them to be themselves and have a good time. That’s what we allow them to do, to play and have a good time, and we try to keep everything organized to where it won’t be a cluster, but overall I think we have a great program going on.”