A group photo taken after the first game. Credit: Jordan Esparza

On Saturday, December 9, South Side Weekly hosted Community Hoops, the first event in our community safety initiative series. The Weekly invited community members out to have conversations about gun violence on the South Side, receive resources via a first aid teach-in, commune over food, and play pick up style basketball games. The event took place at Lakeshore Sport and Fitness in the Loop from 11am to 3pm. 

At the start of the event, participants filed into the gym to the sound of music spun by DJ Brogawd. Players began to shoot around and warm up for the games. Once enough people  arrived, players organized themselves into teams, autonomously choosing captains based on performance they noticed as they warmed up. 

Musician and South Sider Ausar was among the group of basketball players. He walked into the event hoping to build community and have fun.

“There were a lot of new faces that I don’t see in the artistic sphere, but there were also a lot of homies who I have met throughout the years who were also there and were kicking it and it seemed like a great environment and just a dope time in general.” Ausar said.

“There was also food so that immediately took it to another level,” he continued, laughing.

Credit: Jordan Esparza
Credit: Jordan Esparza

With South Side Weekly and Hyde Park Herald shirts as their jerseys, the first game kicked off. The room filled with anticipation and excitement as team SSW came back from a deep early game deficit to win by a single basket. 

“It was competitive, which I always enjoy because it brings out the best in people, and it was a lot of fun,” said artist and teacher Trey Raines, also known as The Third. “I enjoyed being able to step up and compete, I enjoyed losing because people on the other team got excited, and then that got me excited.” he said.

Third also expressed gratitude for having the space to meet new acquaintances. “Now that I go outside I may see somebody and it’s like ‘aye, we met at [this] community event, and now we have community together,” he said.“It just kind of grows a sense of comfort, because Chicago can be really divided.” 

Pictured: The Third (right, in SSW jersey) guards Ausar on a Hyde Park Herald fast break. Credit: Jordan Esparza

Players raced up and down the entire court as The Weekly’s Community Builder (that’s me) kept score. They dapped up and congratulated the winning team, excited for the next game. 

Pictured: Chima “Naira” Ikoro, The Weekly’s Community Builder. Credit: Jordan Esparza
Pictured: Brogawd and Chima “Naira” Ikoro keep score at the DJ booth. Credit: Jim Daley

Before the games continued, participants gathered around for a gun violence first aid teach-in led by Ujimaa Medics Group. Ujimaa Medics got started in 2014 with basic gunshot wound training and first response for asthma, while sharing some Know Your Rights information in some of their workshops. The group has expanded since then, adding CPR training, among other resources.

“The core of the work that we’re doing is this idea of collective care, collective community care. We just want folks to have skills,” said Joey, a member of Ujimaa Medics. He started with Ujimaa almost ten years ago, when he was thirteen.

“We’re a mutual aid organization, so these are skills that were shared with us that we’re trying to share with other people, in the hopes that we can collectively apply those skills to fill the gaps in which the state has left people in the black community vulnerable,” he said.

Before getting into the workshop, Ujimaa members asked attendees about their experience with gun violence. Asked if anyone was concerned about being shot, or concerned for the safety of friends and family, almost everyone raised their hands. The group also asked if anyone present had ever been shot, and one participant raised his hand. The group responded with an expression of gratitude for his life. 

“A lot of the answers to those questions were unfortunately ‘yes.’ I can remember there were only two things that I actually put my hand down for,” Ausar said.

“But in terms of being around gun violence or hearing gunshots or even seeing somebody else get shot, all the answers to all of those were ‘yes.’ So it was kind of harrowing to see everybody else around you and their answers to those questions at the exact same time because you realize it’s a much more unified experience than you really would think.”

Pictured: Joey, Sam, Jasmine from Ujimaa Medics. Credit: Jordan Esparza

The teach-in walked the group through a scenario where two friends are out in public, and one of them gets shot. Largely narrated by Joey, the teach-in covered safety measures, the importance of asking for consent, how to prevent blood loss, how to communicate with 911, police officers, and paramedics, and more. 

Pictured: Joey from Ujimaa Medics. Credit: Jordan Esparza
Credit: Jordan Esparza

Joey welcomed hands-on participation, and invited artist and South Sider The Third to join the demonstration of how to apply pressure and minimize blood loss. Despite the subject being heavy and serious, Joey sprinkled in humor to lighten the mood. 

The Third practices applying pressure to a gunshot wound during the teach-in. Credit: Jordan Esparza
Credit: Jordan Esparza

“I thought that was incredible,” Ausar said of the teach-in. “I actually did not come in expecting it because I saw the flier and I just saw ‘hoop session,’ and I was like alright, cool. I’m gonna pull up.”

But upon arriving and discovering there would be a teach-in, Ausar agreed that it was an important addition to the event. “In the communities that we come from—it’s unfortunate, but I do think [this training is] a very pivotal piece of information to have especially when we know about the lack of resources and just equity we have in the communities that experienced the most violence,” he said. “That type of information is literally the difference between someone living and dying.” 

“I think it just kind of helped everybody actualize a likely event, especially growing up where we grew up at, and then giving them the tools and resources, which is the most important part,” said Third, who is originally from Chatham.

After the teach-in, some players decided to start another game, while others subbed out to dive into a catered lunch. 

“I’m not talking about me because I’m the greatest hooper in Chicago,” Ausar said, laughing. “But everyone isn’t incredible at hooping and they just wanna come and get some buckets and build in the community, and this felt like that. You didn’t have to be the best at it, you just had to come and chill.”

Pictured: Makafui Searcy, founder of FOURTUNEHOUSE, and Matt Muse, rapper and founder of Love & Nappyness. Credit: Jordan Esparza
Credit: Jordan Esparza

“I think we should do more of these events. I think more people should come out,” Third said. “If you don’t feel like you can learn anything—which is always the case, right? Some people feel like they know everything; then that means you have something to contribute.”

The Weekly also created a survey for participants to complete, which asked questions about their personal relationship with gun violence, their opinions on the reporting of gun violence, and resources they’ve seen work or want to see more of. One of the questions asked participants if they knew of any resources for victims of gun violence; all except for one response was “no.” As The Weekly continues the work of this community safety initiative, we hope to compile more responses and resources to share. Please take a moment to fill out the survey at bit.ly/sswsafetysurvey.

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Chima Ikoro is The Weekly’s Community Builder.

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