CPS Coaches Organize Anti-Violence Rally on Saturday, September 19

Tim Flowers was seven years old when he first saw someone killed in his neighborhood.

Flowers, now 32, had a long-time friend shot and killed in just the past few weeks on Chicago’s South Side. Gun violence and its effects on his community — Englewood, where he grew up and now lives again — have been a near constant in his life. That violence and a desire to show young people “we shouldn’t be living like this” is a driving force in Flowers’ motivation for organizing the Soaring Above All Odds rally on Saturday, September 19, at Murray Park in Englewood.

Flowers, an all-state player and two-time state champion at Simeon where he starred alongside current NBA star Derrick Rose, is now an assistant coach at his alma mater. He joined forces with other members of the Chicago basketball community to create what they hope will be the first of many grassroots rallies around the city.

Other event leaders include:

  • Beyond Athletics Chicago’s LaRon Wade
  • Team More Sports’ Lyvonte Eskridge
  • South Suburban College assistant coach Cobri Gilbert
  • Hyde Park boys head coach Jamere Dismukes.

In a group FaceTime call, Flowers and Dismukes expressed strong beliefs in the power basketball has in Chicago. They believe that if the gravity the sport holds across the city could be harnessed that it could create major change.

“The most important, most underutilized community in the city of Chicago is the basketball community,” Flowers said. “Where I come from, the rappers, the football players, the girls, they want to be around the [basketball players]. The guys on the street want to be like the basketball players.

“When I was 16 and 17 years old, me and Derrick [Rose] growing up in our neighborhood, we were two of the most influential people in that community,” Flowers continued. “But we didn’t know how to properly utilize that; nobody was telling us how to utilize that.”

The pair said that the mission of the September 19 rally is to bring basketball coaches and players together with other community leaders, such as Father Pfleger of St. Sabina on 78th Street. The next steps are twofold: using that energy to hold future rallies in other Chicago neighborhoods, growing a bigger community; and connecting people with ideas together with those who hold influence, identifying solutions to systemic issues in their communities.

“When we start putting our ideas together, and putting our minds together and coming up with ideas collectively, we can do more,” Flowers said. “We can attract more. We can touch more. We can be more of a power system than if we were trying to do things on our own.”

Chicago shootings, generally concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods (mostly on the south and west sides), have spiked in 2020 as they have in many large cities: Through September 14, the 2,941 shooting victims are nearly 1,000 more than through the same day in 2019, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Though COVID-19 and its fallout have caused increased shootings in the city, the problems that lead to this violence are deep-seeded and not just a 2020 problem. In 2014 I spoke to Arthur Lurigio, a professor of criminal justice and psychology at Loyola University Chicago, about gun violence around the one-year anniversary of Hadiya Pendleton’s death. His message, about increased police presence, still echoes true more than six years later.

“People see homicide as a crime, I see it as a social problem,” Lurigio said at the time. “The symptom of a sick community. [By targeting homicides] you’re treating the symptom, not the disease. It’s all about socioeconomic issues. Quality of life indexes and violent crime rate, they’re highly correlated.”

Flowers echoed the same in his first-hand experiences.

“We don’t have any mental-health facilities in my neighborhood,” Flowers said. “I know how PTSD and those things have weighed on me [from neighborhood shootings]. Imagine a kid who doesn’t have any structure, who doesn’t have a meal every night, what do you expect them to do. You add that drugs are prevalent in our communities. These are still kids at the end of the day, and these kids turn into messed up adults because they don’t have anything.”

Still, there are other present-day factors that these coaches believe make it the right time to push for change.

“Everything going on right now with the racial injustices, the NBA protesting, how the NFL plans to protest right now … we’ve never been at a time like this, where there’s so much Black Lives Matters going on around the world,” Dismukes said days before NFL Week 1 kicked off. “You see it on an NBA court, that’s never happened before. You’re going to see it when they allow people to kneel in the NFL … When I hear about that small window, I think now is the best time because this right here has never happened before, so now is the time to strike.

“We can take our initiatives and what we’re doing and planning in Chicago, and we can touch Wisconsin,” Dismukes added. “We can touch Indiana, Iowa, Missouri. Because it’s everywhere right now and it’s relevant right now, and people aren’t afraid to speak on it right now.”

With a combination of the social climate, a rise in shootings and a mass of community support, the coaches believe they would have the right mix of factors and power to bring their plans of action to Chicago and Illinois politicians, ultimately seeking the resources to fund a variety of programs. It can’t happen without support from their local and basketball communities. But they’ve seen the power of the basketball coaching community recently.

“Just like we had 2,000 coaches from around the state of Illinois rally for a shot clock – which I’m all for – but 2,000 coaches came together for that cause,” Flowers said. “My challenge is to guys to come be a part of this cause.”

In August a 12-year-old boy was shot while playing basketball at Mamie Till-Mobley Park, less than five miles from where the rally will be held. In 2014 ESPN wrote that “playground basketball is dying,” with gun violence keeping kids out of parks. Flowers said he’d never have become the basketball player he was without playing at a park, and he wants that for kids today.

“Our kids don’t even hoop outside anymore,” Dismukes said. “It’s a problem when you’re afraid to go outside. I live in Woodlawn and I’m terrified of my daughter going to this park down the street. I’m terrified. There was just a shooting, not too long ago, at the same damn park.”

Holding the rally in a park is a first step in taking it back in the community.

To Flowers, has there been policies or events that have negatively impacted these communities over the years? Yes. Should more have been done to stop gun violence previously? Yes.

But that isn’t what matters now.

“That’s the past, we can’t hold onto the past,” Flowers said. “But what are we willing to do for the future?”

“I’m personally tired of getting phone calls about friends and family members and kids people that I love and care about getting shot and killed,” he said.

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Soaring Above All Odds Details

Date: Saturday, September 19
Time: 2 p.m.
Location: Murray Park | 7300 S. Hermitage
Speakers: Tim Flowers, Jamere Dismukes, Lyvonte Eskridge, Cobri Gilbert, LaRon Wade and others

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