I often think that perhaps I am Chicago’s number one skeptic. As a youth in the age of information I have absorbed so many different opinions and simply put, I don’t believe that all of the rallies and vigils actually solve the tough problems facing this great city. I feel that these events often help to cure the pain but fall short of making sure that the issue is taken care of. But one event I feel without a doubt makes a difference is the annual PEACE Tournament put together by Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago Bulls star Joakim Noah.
Though in its third year, I first heard of the event last year. The concept was simple. Gather young men who were involved in gang life, and have them play each other in a basketball tournament. In the process these same men would build relationships with each other, squashing their differences for the greater good of the community. At the same time the event has obvious entertainment value due to its audience being hoops-hungry Chicagoans.
I knew the event was serious when media members such as RedEye’s Bryan Crawford and even ABC-7 news had trouble getting through the media checkpoints. Once inside I was shocked. St. Sabina was absolutely packed, and this was before the arrival of the NBA stars that so many yearned to see. The crowd went wild once they spotted NBAers Noah, Bulls rookie Doug McDermott, Antoine Walker, and NBA legend Isiah Thomas. After being flocked for autographs, Noah himself took over MC duties for the games. The games themselves were up-tempo and featured hard-defense, which is the classic nature of Chicago basketball from the playgrounds to the hardwood. And while the games were awesome they were probably the least important part of the whole event. I believe the words shared with the participants before the games was most critical. Former NBA champion Craig Hodges kept it short and sweet, stating “it’s wonderful to see our men take time to do something positive to change our communities.” But Isiah Thomas, who avoided trouble while growing up on Chicago’s west side had some truly powerful words. He touched on he fact that a ‘turn-the-other-cheek’ mentality is possible for so many young people that feel like they have been given up on. Thomas said: “I love you and am just asking for you to love each other.”
If everyone in Chicago realizes that all it takes to make a positive change is open discussion and a general camaraderie, then our city has as bright a future as any.