The guiding principles – the qualities underpinning the project – are set out from the start.
Things like loyalty, responsibility, family and friendship. Things like camaraderie, sacrifice and trust. Things like teamwork and respect, these are the things that matter here.
Lest anyone forget, these things have been written down for all participants to peruse.
That those taking part include drug dealers and addicts, homeless people and local householders, gang members and business owners alike, ensures that this is a scheme like no other.
This is connection, Skid Row-style.
Here, in Los Angeles’ harshest neighborhood, the Skid Row 3-on-3 Streetball League is thriving.
It is – at face value, at least – a sporting contest: six players, two teams, two hoops, one ball.
Yet those behind the project have a favourite saying: it’s more than just a game.
Do a little research and it soon becomes clear that this goes far beyond basketball.
It’s not just playing, it’s a serious business, an inclusive affair that, at its heart, has community, connection and a determination to improve life for all.
It’s for everyone. No matter misdemeanours past or present, no thought given to backgrounds or beliefs, all are invited to be involved, no-one is excluded.
The theory here, that in refusing to judge and avoiding negative thought, a better path can be shown, one that is rooted in a community spirit that has long been absent in the Gladys Park area.
To quote the man behind a quite-remarkable tale of social transformation, Manuel Benito Compito (pictured above), ‘We tell them that they’ve got entrepreneurial skills but they’re not practised in a positive manner. Instead of doing something that destroys the community, [we’re helping them to] do something that helps the community.’
That Manuel speaks from experience is clear for, as a young man, he spent five years in prison.
‘I robbed everyone,’ admits a man following a different path these days. ‘The milkman. The Hostess Cupcake truck. The bank. I just wanted to get money.’
He makes no excuses – ‘I chose this life,’ he says – but he is determined to make amends, insisting, ‘I know I contributed to the problem so it’s only fair that I’m trying to be part of the solution’.
To us, it seems that Manuel is doing rather more than just trying, for he is out there touching lives, inspiring and influencing others, leading by example.
For some time now, he has been making a difference in his community, bringing his own brand of neighborhood advocacy to Skid Row, seeking to empower and engage young people and help them to avoid the mistakes that he himself made . . . .
Teaching them that crime and drugs and gangs and violence are not the answer. Showing them that building a community, helping each other and being part of something positive is a far better path to tread.
‘Tutoring equals empowerment and empowerment brings confidence,’ he says. ‘That leads to responsible citizenship, community involvement, entrepreneurial endeavours and a love of and for family. We do not judge, we take away the negativity and insert positive thinking, and we’re doing it ourselves. That’s the cornerstone of our philosophy, don’t wait for a handout, let whatever we create grow from the enthusiasm and efforts of the community.’
The impact on Skid Row, where the outlook has been altered and lives transformed, is quite remarkable.
It is all down to Manuel, who has given the downtrodden and disenfranchised something to think about, something to do, something to take pride in and something to enjoy . . . .
Together, as a community, connected . . . .
Something shared, a common cause . . . .
The realization that shooting hoops is better than shooting each other.
It strikes us that Manuel’s guiding principles are not so different to those that drive us and inspire our OMs. Different lives, for sure. But rooted in all the same stuff.
To quote Manuel one last time, ‘It is more than just a game. There is a love for one another and for the goals of this organization. It’s about family and friendship. It’s about taking our individual talents and gifts and combining them for the benefit of all.’
Here in Saunderstown, we couldn’t agree more.
Here’s to community, here’s to camaraderie and here’s to respect . . . .