The World I Imagine

A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace. The essays in this collection introduce creative ideas for ending poverty everywhere, in the hope that humans can finally build a truly peaceful society where everyone enjoys at least the basic benefits of prosperity, for the first time in history.

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Lion's Pride

The mystery set in 1911 Arizona, features murder, adultery, polygamy, and a marauding mountain lion threatening territorial residents! This exciting adventure novel was published by Outskirts Press in 2007.

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We want to know your thoughts on how to end poverty and build a peaceful world.

Please send a message to:

debbie@imaginetheworldatpeace.com

 Or write to us at:

Debbie Jordan
Imagine the World at Peace
1664 E. Florence Blvd.
Suite 4 #145
Casa Grande, AZ 85122

 

MIDNIGHT BASKETBALL

All articles originally appeared in either Night Owl's Newsletter and/or Arizona City Independent Edition
www.trivalleycentral.com

During the five years I published Night Owl's Newsletter, I had the singular privilege of interviewing several people who were associated with the original Midnight Basketball Leagues, including the late founder of the program, G. Van Standifer. In fact, I was privileged to be one of the last members of the media to enjoy a conversation with this great man shortly before his passing.

If you've done much surfing on this web site, you know that I'm a rabid baseball fan, and I enjoy, or at least respect, the athleticism involved in other sports. My husband, Jim, and I do like to watch the Phoenix Suns play, so we don't go off the deep end during the long baseball off-season! We also respect the amount of support that athletes, both professional and amateur, give to community programs that serve the needs of the less fortunate.

On the other hand, I do have a big bone to pick with the design of most sports organizations that offer psychological support to members of certain minority groups. Several times in the past, I've had occasion to ask a single question of the people I meet who are active in sports programs for minority members. With only one exception, I've received little more than blank stares, because the answer is always negative. I agree that sports is a wonderful tool to help encourage people who are dealing with physical, psychological, and financial issues, but I wonder why I've been able to find only one sports program in the country that is more than just a sports program.

The question I've asked is: What kind of programs for training these people for daily living and job preparation are connected with the sports program you work with? In only one instance, Midnight Basketball, have I ever received a positive answer to my question, as you will see by reading the articles below. This is why I have done and will continue to do whatever small bit I can to spread the word about the Association of Midnight Basketball Leagues Programs, Inc. (AMBLP).

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these articles that I wrote in the early 1990s, mostly about people who are no longer active with Midnight Basketball. I hope in time to add more articles and interviews about what's going on now. At least these will show you what the program is all about and what makes it different from all the other community-based sports programs that I know about. If anyone can tell me about another program that joins sports with this kind of intense personal support and education for participants, I'd be delighted to know about it!

To read an article, just click on the title below:

 
MIDNIGHT BASKETBALL: THE BEGINNING

A Profile of G. Van Standifer Founder, Midnight Basketball Leagues

(Originally featured in Night Owl's Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 11)

G. Van Standifer served God and his fellow man well in his 62 years, 11 months and 22 days on earth. I had the privilege of talking to him at length on an August afternoon, just 22 days before his passing. Feeling his energy and dedication over long-distance lines, I knew he was a man who worked hard and well at any task he chose. Excellence was his touchstone.

During his last six years of life, Van Standifer worked tirelessly, ignoring naysayers and financial obstacles, to establish a national sports program that occupies young men during critical dark hours and turns them into useful, productive citizens.

When he became town manager of Glenarden, Maryland, G. Van Standifer realized he had to do something about rising crime rates in the poorest neighborhoods of this Washington, D.C., satellite city. Traditional approaches had little effect. Statistics of criminal activity in December 1985 made him dread the onset of warm weather and its concurrent increase in crime. Standifer knew he must get the troublemakers, mostly unemployed high-school dropouts, off the streets, especially from 10 p.m. to well past midnight.

He approached then-Mayor James Fletcher with a program designed to prevent crime in their town. Curfew? The very word seems to make Standifer uncomfortable. No, he proposed that inner-city kids play basketball. At midnight.
Few welcomed the radical concept. Standifer explains, "Before they really know what we're trying to accomplish, as soon as they hear basketball, they're turned off. And basketball at midnight? They're really turned off."

Negative responses didn't deter Standifer. Not that he was so worried about the kids. He confesses that at first, "It was really just pure selfishness on my part. You know, that this was my town, and I can't have these things happening on my watch, and it wasn't that I really cared anything about the kids."

Whatever his motivation, Standifer did care that the job was done right. He originally intended to get the program going, then hand it over to the Parks and Planning Commission. Instead, he says, "Every time I turned around, I was in a little deeper." So deep after one year that he resigned as town manager to head the fledgling Midnight Basketball League (MBL). However, for another couple of years he still considered it a "job," rather than a "mission."

The original concept was designed to "tie [the kids] up during what we call an extremely vulnerable time frame." But that wasn't good enough for sponsors who wanted their money spent on something more substantial than basketball. That's when the idea of workshops was conceived.

Attendance at workshops became a league requirement. Team members, high-school dropouts between the ages of 17 and 25, began learning subjects like personal hygiene and business skills. Some had to learn to read; others were able to obtain their GEDs. Standifer convinced trade and technical schools to offer job training and employment referrals. In recent years, junior college coaches have offered scholarships to players with academic skills needed to pursue a degree.

Standifer points to "social promotions," which have been the educational norm for decades, as the reason kids fail to learn in school. It's also the reason so many turn to a "career" which requires no academic training: drugs. He believes the kids "would rather be a constructive part of the neighborhood than a destructive part, but since they've been written off, they don't really have a whole lot of choice. We're trying to tip them back over on the other side of the fence, because it's just a question of time before they're going to be in the criminal justice system, if indeed they aren't already."

Standifer describes his developing concern for his charges as "the tail wagging the dog": "I think the good Lord must be punishing me. I work so hard now, He must be punishing me for all those years when I didn't care. Before I retired [from a career with the Federal Government], I'd come home and close my front door and pour myself a cocktail, and it was, 'To hell with everybody.' The first 56 years of my life was a waste, because I didn't care."

He cares now. His zeal prompted the development of MBL programs until it had reached more than 30 cities nationwide (though in recent years the reorganized leagues, explained below, has been pared down to just eight cities). Generally supported mostly by public funds, leagues always need help from private sources, such as businesses. Now, besides regular games, the kids get to compete in national tournaments. But great basketball skills are not a prime requisite for team participation. More important is the willingness to cooperate and learn, to develop into a productive citizen.

The program has had a greater effect than organizers foresaw. "I used to always say, at two o'clock in the morning, there'd be nobody but me and the kids." But attendance grew every year, to about 100 per game. Since no tickets are sold, there's no official tally. He calls the audience a "fringe benefit," because while they're watching games, spectators are also staying out of trouble.

Standifer is modest about the success of MBL, especially since they haven't enough resources to track players' progress after they quit playing, but people around him claim the program does have an impact on the futures of these young men. Standifer explains, "You can't fault the kid for trying to survive when he has no other choice."

Van Standifer's work acknowledges that a great deal of otherwise productive youthful energy is being misdirected during night hours. (I discuss this situation in more detail in a related article on teens and sleep, entitled "Adolescent Repose?") Even though these young men from the inner-city are "playing" at the game of basketball, they are working at building new lives for themselves and their neighborhoods--and the world. G. Van Standifer should be remembered for his contributions to the welfare of thousands of young Night Owls. He was a model for others who want to lift at risk youth from despair and teach them to achieve.

Much has changed with Midnight Basketball since I first wrote this article for Night Owl’s Newsletter in the early 1990s. As I explained in my article, “Greetings from the Midnight Man,” below, the new organization is called the Association of Midnight Basketball Leagues Programs, Inc. (AMBLP). You can go to their web site at www.amblp.com to find out how to help this extremely effective organization.

Greetings from the Midnight Man

(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, June 22, 2005)

The phone rang the other day very early in the morning. Often, I wouldn’t have been up, not because it’s early but because I tend to sleep very odd hours. I could just as easily have been asleep, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Jim was getting ready to go to work, but I’d already packed his lunch and he had his coffee, so he was taken care of and I could talk. The great thing was that the caller was an old friend from Atlanta. Not just any old friend, but the man whom I met when he was Director of the Atlanta Chapter of the original Midnight Basketball League. He wanted to tell me about his new gig as National Director of the newly reorganized Association of Midnight Basketball Leagues Programs, Inc. (AMBLP), and urge me to check out their current web site at www.amblp.com.

I first met Emanuel Hunt, Jr., in the early 1990s when I was publishing Night Owl’s Newsletter. I wrote an article about his MBL work, and for another article, he put me in touch with the mother of a young man who did some good work with computers when he was playing with MBL. Over time, I hope to continue writing these articles in order to explain how this positive community program helps young men in the inner cities find their way in life.

There are also two more reasons that I feel such a special connection to the AMBLP. Back in the early ‘90s, I wrote a letter to an Atlanta TV station suggesting that the program’s volunteers deserve some attention for the impressive work they do to help inner-city kids find direction in their lives. Somebody took note, and Emanuel Hunt received a Channel 11 Community Service Jefferson Award. I even got to go to the award ceremony with him, and the story of the work he did was shown on TV several times during that month.

The other experience is something that could not be repeated, no matter how many awards await my AMBLP friends. As it happened, one of the most important articles I did on the work of this wonderful organization was based on a telephone interview I conducted with G. Van Standifer, the man who founded the Midnight Basketball League back in 1986 to fight crime in his hometown of Glen Arden, Maryland.

I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with this dedicated public servant, whose story you can read above, and on the AMBLP web site at: www.amblp.com. I’m honored to share the article I wrote about him, which goes a little deeper into this humanitarian’s history and personality.

But I only learned the really special thing about our interview a couple of months later, when I’d completed writing the article and was almost finished putting my newsletter together so I could print it and mail it. (That was in the old days when we did everything by “snailmail” and absolutely nothing online!)

I called Van Standifer’s number to advise him of my publication date and see whether I could get a picture to accompany the article. As it happened, I ended up talking to his daughter-in-law, Karen, who informed me that Mr. Standifer had passed away barely three weeks after our conversation.

Of course, I was stunned, but she was good enough to tell me that the family enjoyed the article I’d sent for review, and they did indeed have a picture that I could use in my newsletter. When that issue of Night Owl’s Newsletter was published, the face on the front page was that of a late middle-aged black man with a Mona-Lisa expression who spent his life helping his fellow human beings. The picture was the one that had graced the programs at G. Van Standifer’s memorial service. Incidentally, you can see this picture by going to www.amblp.com and clicking on “History” on the menu at the left-hand side of the page.

I never met Van Standifer in person, but after spending time talking to him when he was so close to the end of his earthly journey and seeing what a beautiful person he was on the inside as well as the outside, I’ll always remember him with love.

That’s why I am delighted to do whatever I can to tell people about the effective support his organization gives to young men at risk all around the country. I’ll be happy if some small thing I write helps just a tiny bit to make sure that work continues.

Midnight Basketball: Chicago Style

(Originally featured in Night Owl's Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 7)

It is one o'clock in the morning on the coldest day of 1991 in one of Chicago's largest inner-city housing developments. Inside the community gym a basketball game is in full swing. Opposing teams consist of young men, 18 to 25, some of whom are, if not actual gang members, at least gang affiliated. Despite a heavy snowfall, attendance is very good. The bleachers are packed with family members and friends of players, and other Night people who just enjoy watching a good basketball game at that hour.

Suddenly the lights go out. "Having grown up in the projects, my natural instinct is to get my back to the wall and push away anything that touches me," explains Midnight Basketball League Commissioner Gil Walker. "And this is what I did, until I realized I'm the commissioner. I was in charge," he adds with a laugh.

In a loud voice, Walker orders, "Nobody move!" After light is finally restored almost 10 minutes later, there are no reports of any problems. No one has even stolen somebody else's Coke can. None of the healthy young males in attendance has tried to paw any of the girls.

Walker credits the orderly conduct of spectators, and especially team members, during this emergency with attitudes he and his coaches instill in their players. He believes a truly successful athlete is a good person off the field, and he and his staff expect that behavior from their charges. MBL players must sign contracts, agreeing to attend workshops on everything from personal hygiene and etiquette to proper conduct in business. If they miss one workshop, they sit out the next game; if they miss two workshops, they're off the team.

Another lesson comes from the nature of team assignment schedules. Rather than playing on teams according to their home addresses, players are distributed throughout the league according to talent. Rival gang members end up playing with, instead of against, each other. They get to know each other, developing bonds which carry into the street.

The first Midnight Basketball League was organized in 1986 by G. Van Standifer as a means of stemming rising crime rates in Glenarden, Maryland, where he then served as town manager. Standifer hoped to offer some positive activity for men 18 to 25 years of age during the hours they get into the most trouble--10 p.m. to 2 a.m. His program, which still runs every summer, was such a success that other cities began adapting the idea to their own community needs.

Chicago's league, involving two of the largest residential developments of the Chicago Housing Authority and slated to double this year, is the largest branch of this growing movement. This year 29 cities across the U.S. are running their own Midnight Leagues, and Walker reports plans for a national MBL championship series.

Besides Standifer, Walker credits his boss, Vince Lane, with the success of MBL. As soon as Lane became Chairman of Chicago Housing Authority in 1988, he turned an agency that previously had been a haven of political patronage into a functioning service for residents of some of the worst inner-city housing developments in the country. When he heard about the MBL concept shortly after assuming his new position at CHA, Lane asked Walker to go to New York to "check it out" and see if the league could be adapted to Chicago's inner-city communities.

As Youth Development Coordinator of CHA, Walker oversaw 26 programs for CHA project residents, not one of which specifically addressed the needs of men 18 to 25--before MBL. He explains that most people ignore the needs of this age group in the inner-city, most of whom are unemployed or under-employed. The common belief is that if they haven't been helped at an earlier age, they're lost by the time they're young adults. Both Walker and Lane refuse to accept such a doom-sayer's philosophy.

No one claims MBL is stopping crime in its tracks, but it is having a positive effect on community atmosphere where teams are established. Neighborhood pride is strengthened, there is more local camaraderie, even among citizens who, in the past, incited some of the worst problems. Walker says the program is for young men who really want to change. One measure of progress: Not one player has been incarcerated since joining the league.

As a natural-born Night Owl, I credit one more factor to the success of Midnight Basketball League: The movement acknowledges that most young people's minds and bodies are too active at night for rest. Historically, society has tried to solve this "problem" by imposing arbitrary curfews, which any Owl can tell you will not work. Walker, an army brat who spent part of his childhood in the inner-city housing developments of Gary, Indiana, admits that even as a dedicated student at Pan American University in South Texas, he didn't spend every night hitting the books; he enjoyed late-night parties with friends, even when he had to be up for an early-morning class.

The first and biggest step to solving any problem is admitting that the problem exists. The "problem" in question--or "situation," as we prefer to call it--is that most young people are physically and mentally active at night, but without adequate supervised programs, they become bored and often turn their energies to negative activities. MBL gives energetic young men a positive focus in the wee hours and offers entertainment to other Night people.

I applaud the vision of G. Van Standifer, Gil Walker, Vince Lane, and all the other people who recognize what any Owl can tell you: Curfews and other Lark-imposed strictures to our Night life do not work. On the contrary, with the right planning and support, Owls can thrive.

We feel MBL should be only the beginning. What about other nighttime community activities? Midnight baseball and football? Owl college courses? Continuing-education classes in the wee hours? Late-night concerts and museum tours?

Recognizing the power of the Owl dollar, more and more stores are keeping their doors open 24 hours a day. Marlene J. Gordon begins her "Insomniac's Tour of L.A." at 3 a.m. (for details, go to http://www.nextstagetours.com/calendar.htm). While these are signs of a growing Owl movement, we remember that, "Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step."

You can be an important part of this movement. You can be an Owl hero and help many talented young men find success in life. To sponsor an MBL team, go to www.amblp.com

After listening to Gil Walker talk about MBL, I realize the success of the CHA program comes from the spirit he brings to this work. He is a charismatic ambassador for the six-year-old MBL. We wish him and his league success. And we pray for a lifetime of success for every young man who finds a nocturnal anchor from Midnight Basketball League.

Midnight Basketball: An Owl Mother Speaks Out

(Originally featured in Night Owl's Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 15)

This summer Congress, and the American public, debated the wisdom of a comprehensive crime bill which included a monetary provision for Midnight Basketball Leagues (MBL), a national sports program that takes a unique--and successful--approach to the problem of youth crimes at night. When the bill was finally passed, the proposed MBL grant of $40 million had been cut to a possible $6 million, due, no doubt, to prejudice against using sports instead of curfews to keep kids out of trouble at night.

For two years, Night Owl's Newsletter has reported on the wisdom and workings of Midnight Basketball Leagues, as explained by Gil Walker, Chicago MBL Director, and G. Van Standifer, (now late) founder of MBL. This year we talked to someone even closer to the situation: the mother of an MBL player.

Donness Clark, a single mother of three who lives in Carver Homes, one of Atlanta's many inner-city "project" neighborhoods, hopes some federal money will find its way to the MBL program in her neighborhood. "The game is fine," says Clark. "Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday is fine. But you also need Friday and Saturday to get them off the street." She adds, "They need to carry on through the winter," instead of just playing during summer months. "They just need to continue so they can get the kids off the street."

Clark says MBL reduces nighttime violence in the neighborhood during the hottest months "because everybody [is] over at the gym." With no gate charge, at least 200 people attend each game.

Though she currently depends on public assistance, Clark does not envision her three children being stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty, thanks to educational opportunities available to DeJuan, Elivian, and Jonathan. All three children enjoy both school and sports. During one phone conversation in mid-September, Clark told us Elivian, 10, was outside playing "school," with herself as teacher, which is her career choice. Elivian plays on her school's girls basketball team and this summer wrote book reports for spending money in an Earning for Learning program. Jonathan, 6, loves playing all sports, especially baseball and football.

For 18-year-old DeJuan, MBL has been an important part of his blueprint for a better future. Two years of spending summer nights playing with friends on an MBL team provided a welcome adjunct to the computer classes and basketball DeJuan enjoyed the other nine months in school. His mother says, "He lives this game. He eats, sleeps, and thinks this game." Because he also loves school, especially computer classes, his dreams are focused on two goals: computers and basketball.

At 6'2" and very fast, DeJuan is so good at his sport that a basketball scholarship to Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Texas, is helping him pursue his "realistic" goal, a degree in computer technology. He also wants to play pro ball in the NBL, no doubt after he obtains his four-year degree, probably at Clemson.

Clark is proud that her older son has his feet planted firmly on the ground, even as he works toward his dream of NBA superstardom. One summer DeJuan attended an Olympic basketball camp at Morehouse College; another year he spent a week at a basketball camp at Georgia Tech. With pride, his mother told us how he combined his loves of sports and computers by laboring one summer for the Atlanta Olympic Committee. Since he will have completed his final term at Navarro by then, DeJuan will probably work for the Olympic Committee again during that once-in-a-lifetime event in 1996.

While coaches helped him locate camp programs and arrange for his college scholarship, DeJuan discovered MBL and registered on his own for the neighborhood program. Since he studies into the night during school, he didn't mind playing summer basketball till 1:30 a.m.

Because DeJuan is a star athlete, playing both point guard and forward on his high-school team, what role, we asked, did MBL provide in his development as a player? According to his mother, playing with neighborhood youngsters broadened his experience. Young men play on MBL teams until they're 25, so DeJuan faced players who were physically stronger than his schoolmates. They challenged him in ways "by the book" athletes don't usually see.

For many youth, MBL offers their first opportunity to play a team sport with rules. Midnight Basketball League is not "pickup ball" or "shooting hoops" on the playground. The kids play regulation basketball on assigned teams, and the season leads to championship tournaments, with trophies presented at an annual awards banquet. Serious athletes like DeJuan and other "jocks" provide examples for guys who never played regulation basketball.

"The best thing is seeing the kids' faces when they're getting their trophies. It gets to me," Donness Clark, 38, admits. Many of the players are little more than a decade younger than she is, yet she takes a motherly attitude as she watches them develop into productive citizens, the result of caring attention from MBL volunteers.

That kind of involvement, according to Clark, is making a difference in her neighborhood. "If everybody'd give a helping hand, it'd be a better neighborhood." That includes family participation at MBL games.

"I love to see them play. I hate [that] I can't go see him play in Texas. I stayed at all the games that he went to in high school. My kids enjoy it." Elivian helped out in the concession stand and DeJuan played on the team, while Jonathan was in the halls playing with Emanuel Hunt III, the 9-year-old son of Emanuel Hunt Jr., Atlanta MBL Director. With games conducted in a secured gym, the kids can enjoy supervised play with MBL equipment in a well-lighted corridor adjoining the gym.

Clark believes everyone has the responsibility to speak up about potential trouble, to stop it before it starts. "My mother's a firm believer in taking care of your own, but I guess I inherited this from her: If I see a kid out on the street doing something wrong, I feel it's my place to say something. It takes everybody to raise a kid."

We asked about the atmosphere at games. "You may have had one, maybe two incidents, but it didn't blow out of proportion. It was the girls that came to see the guys play. That's where the violence came in, fighting over these little boys." But, she assured us, adult supervisors handled any problems before they could escalate.

The greatest reason for MBL's success with young men in the inner cities is the mandatory SUCCESS Group workshops, also called HOPE SESSIONS, generally held before games each evening. If a player misses a workshop, he sits out the next game. No exceptions. Though she never attended a workshop, Clark has a good impression of their impact on her son's attitude: "I wanted to attend a few of them, but he said, 'No, Mama, this is not for you. This is for the guys, and I don't want you sitting in here with all these guys.' But I think it's just basically telling them how to prevent violence."

For some of these young men, perhaps, MBL is the first program that really got their attention. Hunt, recently named MBL's Southern Regional Commissioner, explains that HOPE SESSIONS cover everything from drug and AIDS awareness to GED preparation and mock job interviews. HOPE SESSIONS are conducted by educators, counselors, and community leaders who volunteer their own time to help these young men develop leadership skills, self-esteem, and self-respect.

People connected with job training programs come to games to find candidates for their programs from among MBL players. At the annual awards banquet, Clark says, "they talk to the guys. They tell them what they've been through and where they are now. That's giving them a goal." But she is realistic: "You got some [young men] that will listen, and you got some that won't."

We had to ask Mrs. Clark the inevitable question: Does DeJuan have any particular basketball hero, a player he likes to emulate? "No one in particular. He likes them all," was Clark's answer, but she couldn't help adding that she especially admires Magic, Earvin Johnson Jr. We agree that Johnson's courage in the face of tragedy and his determination to save others from his plight merits our respect. But this editor's favorite hoopster is Michael Jordan, not only because he shares a name with our older son, but because he retired from his first sport to play our favorite sport, baseball.

And if DeJuan Clark has room for another sports hero, we recommend Otis Nixon, former Atlanta Brave and present Boston Red Sox outfielder who turned baseball money and fame into what could become a computer empire. With his training, DeJuan Clark could one day use his dual talents to do the same.

With 46 chapters serving 50 cities, Midnight Basketball Leagues, Inc., offers a unique educational/ awareness program geared toward "at risk" young males ages 17 to 25, with a special emphasis on jobless and high-school dropouts. Hunt reports that he would like to lower the age requirements to serve boys from 9 to 16 years of age, and he hopes eventually to broaden the educational opportunities available to MBL participants.

A full-time phone-company administrator and volunteer with several charitable organizations, Hunt represents MBL with The Atlanta Project (TAP), the umbrella organization inspired by President--and "nearly Nobel laureate" (he'll get it next year!)--Jimmy Carter. TAP is leading Atlanta's best and brightest toward the goal of tackling poverty and neglect in the next Olympic city.

We hope to continue to report on the progress of Midnight Basketball Leagues. Donness Clark agrees: "If it takes saying the same things every year to get this program to continue, so be it. It's a good program!" she insists.

 

© 2007 Debbie Jordan