DARBY BOROUGH — On Saturday, police and community members gathered on the Darby Recreation Center basketball courts as a way to get to know each other and end gun violence — with some playing in honor of 14-year-old Quincy Long shot and killed earlier this month.
Ed Brown, one of the event sponsors, Men of Action Brothers of Faith Inc., brought together a group of Long’s friends to participate in the Balling Against Gun Violence event.
“It was a way for them to honor their friend and also do something that they love to do, which is to play basketball,” Brown said. “And, they played basketball with him many times so this is a way for them to bond with him, to compete in his honor.”
Darby Borough, Race for Peace and Urban Navigation hosted the second annual Balling Against Gun Violence at the Darby Recreation Center. Men of Action Brothers of Faith Inc. provided the water ice, pretzels, hot dogs and hoagies.
Hameen Diggins was a co-organizer of the Balling Against Gun Violence, president of Race for Peace and co-founder of Urban Navigation.
“We want to show that everybody can be in one place and just get along,” Diggins said. “It brings a certain amount of humanity to things because there is a lot of distrust. It comes from a lack of knowledge about each other. The trust has to be built between the community and law enforcement and vice versa.”
So, a remedy is to bring these groups together — police and youth — in a fun environment and learn more about each other.
“We’ve got families, young people, we’ve got law enforcement,” Diggins said. “We’ve got them in one place, all together. You would think it’s the NBA. They play their hearts out. They love it.
“When you put both of them together, you get an education that is not taught in other places,” he added.
Among the groups playing Saturday was a group of friends of Quincy Long.
Quincy Long, 14, was shot and killed July 1 when a group of children were playing with a gun in Upper Darby. Days later, Jermaine Young, 16, turned himself into the police and has been charged as an adult with murder in the third degree and other related offenses.
Long had just graduated as an honor roll student at Beverly Hills Middle School.
His friend, Makel Bayer, wore a shirt with Long’s image and the words, “Long Live Quincy.”
“He liked to play basketball,” the 16-year-old said of his friend. “He was nice, genuine, loved to play basketball. He was a goofy guy, he loved to joke around.”
State Sen. Anthony Williams, D-1st Dist., whose district covers parts of Philadelphia and Delaware counties, visited — but didn’t play — in the event.
He provided $500 for the family of Quincy Long and spoke of the event, noting that as he grew up, he didn’t have to worry about gun violence.
“To me,” Williams said of the Balling Against Gun Violence organizers, “they’re making memories for generations.”
The Haverford Police Department brought a four-member force for the court action — Sgt. TJ Long, Sgt. Rob McCreight, Officer Joe Fuller and Officer Joe Adamski.
“It’s important that the community sees us as something outside of police officers, that we’re just regular people,” Long said. “We’re part of the community. To see us like that, it makes us more approachable when we are working. They won’t be afraid to come up here and talk to us.”
McCreight agreed, adding that the police want to see the streets safe as community members do.
Recalling the time he spent in the Chester Police Department, he said, “Interacting with the youth is the best way to develop relationships.”
Why Haverford participates in this and many other community policing events throughout the year is to let the community know that the police officers are here to be with them, the sergeant said.
“Let them get to know us on a different side — see us not in uniform,” McCreight said. “It’s all about having fun and making the connection with the kids.”
Race for Peace is an organization that brings together law enforcement from various Delaware Valley departments including Philadelphia, Haverford, Radnor, Tredyffrin and Lower Merion to engage the community, often in casual environments but also in summits to have conversations about race and policing. Founded by Andrew Howell, the organization aims to strengthen the relationships between police and the communities they serve by building communication and trust.
Philadelphia-based Urban Navigation reaches inner city youth through their interests in events like Saturday’s basketball event or poetry to help these youth build successful, productive and violence-free lives.
“We use things that they are interested in and we use that as teaching mechanisms,” Diggins said of Urban Navigation, adding that it also reaches into Delaware County.
Noting that mental health workers assist Urban Navigation, Diggins likened it to a GPS.
“A GPS, it picks up where you left off,” he said, then likening it to their work with the youth. “We try to help them reach a different destination.”
Diggins also expressed gratitude to the Men of Action Brothers of Faith for sponsoring the event.
The first session was held last year at the Darby Recreation Center and Diggins anticipates it will be an annual event to let law enforcement interact with kids with whom they normally wouldn’t interact.
“It brings the love and the respect,” he said.
For the youth, it helps occupy their time and it gives them a new view of the police.
“Give them something other to do other than being out on these streets,” Diggins said, adding that the program is meant to help “redefine definitions that have been given to people incorrectly.”
The event was meant to bridge a gap between these communities while instilling valuable life lessons in the youth participants.
“A lot of times we forget to tell the young people we see greatness in you,” Diggins said. “The best award that was ever given out in school was most improved.”
He said the organizers of Saturday’s event wanted all the participants to feel seen.
“We want to do for the young people,” Diggins said. “We let these young people know we see you. ‘Listen, we see you. During this event, listen, y’all the most improved.’”