In partnership with the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the Bridgeport Police Department, the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club started its Midnight Basketball program this summer. The initiative is meant to bring together youth in the community with officers from the Bridgeport Police Department.
Midnight Basketball first began in June and takes place on Friday and Saturday nights. Shawn Byrd, the unit executive director of the Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse, said the program is meant to keep local children and young adults off the streets during the city’s peak crime hours.
Below, Byrd details more about Midnight Basketball and how it’s continuing to benefit the community and the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club.
How did the idea for Midnight Basketball first come about?
SB: It started with a conversation between the Bridgeport Police Department, Wakeman Boys & Girls Club, and Project Longevity. Project Longevity is an initiative intended to be a multi-partner community collaboration and engagement activity between the police departments, community advocates and nonprofit social service organizations to reduce gun violence in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Midnight Basketball was a proposed solution to keep youth off the streets during the summer.
Describe all the aspects of the Midnight Basketball community program that recently took place this summer.
SB: Young people aged from 14 to 24 and are mostly young men, come and play basketball during the city’s peak crime hours from 6 p.m. to midnight. They immediately thereafter attended informative programs that gave them helpful life-lesson skills. The Bridgeport Police Department partnered with two youth-serving organizations in the city to offer this program in different parts of the city. They were the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club and Hall Neighborhood House.
What was the community’s response to the new offering?
SB: The messaging of the return of midnight basketball in the city was received slowly within the community. Once we established our marketing and social media campaigns, the community fully embraced all initiative enrollment and participation increased 167%. We now serve approximately up to 120 participants over a weekend at the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club site.
What benefits do you hope this event had on attendees and the community?
SB: It’s truly a way for youth to form a sense of community, get out of a dangerous environment and give them a sense of hope for the future. The hope is Midnight Basketball helps decrease crime in the neighborhood and it becomes a positive outlet for many youth.
What tips/advice do you have for other community centers for creating events that help unite the community?
SB: Be truly open minded. Seek to understand what the youth want, like and are asking for. More importantly, just listen to the young people we serve.
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