By Joe Anuta
In southeast Queens, conflicts between teenagers often turn deadly, but a basketball game at York College Saturday was designed to spread the message all over the city that violence is not the only option.
The NYPD School Safety Division put on Basketball Over Violence, an afternoon of games where the department brought in local celebrities to play ball with youngsters from the area to promote nonviolent ways to end confrontations.
“The high school kids come in and get a series of lessons,” said Sgt. Dwayne Palmer, of the division’s Community Outreach Unit.
The officers instructed a group of talented youngsters from the Public School Athletic League in anti-gang lessons, gun awareness, bullying and cyberbullying, Palmer said.
And on the court, the participants, known as “Rising Stars,” went toe-to-toe with some of their role models.
The NYPD invited local notables out to the game to show some of the youngsters what they can achieve with a little elbow grease.
“We want to get the message out that they have a bright future ahead of them,” Palmer said.
Boxer Daniel Jacobs, who punched his way to a Golden Gloves award, and Mark Breland, a former Olympian who has won Golden Glove awards as well as a world championship, suited up to take on some of the kids on the court.
“We came from neighborhoods with gangs and street violence, so we understand” Jacobs said.
And the fact that two have been successful athletes will hopefully inspire others to stay away from negative influences.
“You’ve got to understand the position we’re in,” he said. “We have an influence on the kids. We set a positive example and outline for the way we did it.”
Another local celebrity was Tommie Allen, a DJ on KISS-FM who grew up in Brooklyn.
Along with reaching New Yorkers over the airwaves, Allen also reaches out to kids where he grew up in Brooklyn by teaching life skills at a school there.
His message was well-received by Jamaica resident Jayson Fox, who even at 12 years old is constantly surrounded by gangs and the collateral damage they cause.
“We were studying how to deal with violence that happens in our neighborhood,” he said. “Because of the classes, I’ve learned a lot.”
Jayson has not had any confrontations yet but believes he will be better prepared to deal with them after Allen’s instruction.
The same idea translates to the lessons Saturday, according to Palmer.
“We ask them to promote it in the neighborhoods where they’re from,” he said.
Palmer did not specifically hold the event at York College because of crime in southeast Queens, but at least one family was there that was directly affected by recent violence.
Maurice Johnson, 24, was fatally shot in Rochdale Village while on his way to pick up snacks at a convenience store last month. His family was on hand at the event in hopes that the message of non-violence might save others from the grief they have endured.
“These young men are committing genocide against their own race,” said his mother Teresea Johnson, wearing a button with a picture of her slain son. “It needs to stop.”
Another speaker at the event, clad in a pink sash and sparkling tiara, was 8-year-old Faith Jackson. She spoke about the terror she faced when an unknown man shot her in the leg while she was walking down a Bronx street to audition for a kids’ game show in February.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.