SAN ANTONIO – Fans filled the stands at Lockwood Park on the city’s East Side Thursday night, watching several teams face off in a city-organized basketball tournament — part entertainment, part community outreach.
“We feel that if we're out in the community, engaging in the community, a lot of people are out here with us supporting us, people are less likely to engage in crime,” said Derek Taylor, coordinator of Stand Up SA, a division of the Metropolitan Health District.
The program began a few years ago to reach out to residents in areas with histories of violence. The group treats violence like a disease that affects residents’ health.
“We understand that there's certain ways to treat diseases so they don't spread throughout the community,” Taylor said. “Let's say it's a shooting. Usually there's a retaliation, so my staff goes in the community, learns about the shooting and if they figure out who may get retaliated against, they may start talking to the people that may retaliate and say, 'Hey, you may not want to live your life like that because I've been down that road and it's not a good road you want to travel.’”
It’s this type of outreach that attracted many of the event's attendees, including Ronnie Rogers, who grew up in the area before his mother moved him out of the neighborhood.
“I know a lot of kids who got into drugs and gang violence and things like that. It's great that these guys are trying to clean it up,” Rogers said.
The tournament was the first of three planned summer events by Stand Up SA. The next will take place July 14 and will include a talent show. “Love yourself” was the theme of the first event, which included a message of loving yourself and being less concerned with the approval of others.
“It really goes back to changing your social norm,” Taylor said. “If people aren't used to hearing that, they don't think about changing.”
“I think it's really up to the parents,” Rogers said. “I have a great mom. She helped me out and moved me out of the East Side, but even when I lived over here, it was still gang violence. It was still crime everywhere, but she kept us inside studying and sports.”
Stand Up SA is also holding a theme-song contest for the program. Residents can submit entries in MP3 format to firstname.lastname@example.org. The winner will perform at the final event on Aug. 11.
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