Midnight Basketball League Program is Back
By Dianne Anderson
Old boxes of wet stuck together paper from a long-defunct teen basketball program were headed for the trash, but something wouldn’t let Jesse Johnson throw out what was destined for better days.
That was seven years ago.
He is glad he didn’t quit when his basement flooded during a home renovation and important documents were nearly destroyed. Some information was stored on old floppy disks, but he managed to salvage whatever words he could from the scrambled garbage.
“Everything had to be retyped, it was a lot of work with the mildew I had to wear gloves. All I could do was scan it. The disks were different formats, it was crazy,” said Johnson, interim president of the recently revived Midnight Basketball program.
Johnson started the original program in 2006, but he has been inspired to get the group back together.
The goal today is the same as back then, to get local kids off the streets. At one point, he led an excursion of a lifetime to Washington D.C., where the youth visited the White House and met with the late Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald.
“We turned 100s of lives around and these guys some were gang bangers or at-risk youth. As a result of the program, a majority are working for the city, they’re basketball players, they’re coaches,” said Johnson, who is also vice president of the local branch NAACP.
In July, he spoke before the Long Beach City Council to talk about how many of the program participants have become successful in the community, serving in the public sector as officers, educators, city employees, coaches and professional basketball players.
The council voted unanimously to reinstate the program.
He hopes to get it up and running in October, following the fine print and get board members in place. “I’m trying to get everything together, of course everything will be contingent on the virus,” he said.
Programming will be diverse, and he has created a task force. He is seeking representation across the board.
In the past, some of their Black youth became police officers, but perceptions have changed since then and community relations are strained. Funding will come from the police department, but he said the department is not taking the lead in administering the program.
He plans to name an African American officer as the president of the league in the future, someone who has worked with the program before.
He is also bringing some name recognition to the table. Mack Calvin, a professional basketball player will be returning to get involved, along with another alumni player also on the board. Eric Williams is coming in to present workshops on some of his achievements.
Johnson thinks the good lineup will draw local youth and offer a variety of workshops.
“We’ll have everything on how to handle yourself with the police, to how to respect the women in your lives, to how to write a resume,” he said. “While some play ball, others will be in a workshop.”
The program reaches youth from 17 to 25 years, and includes six teams with about 12 to 14 players each. There are two sessions per year, for fall and spring. Youth are not required to be in school, but they are trying to lead them into college or trade school.
Right now, Johnson said they are forming the board, and seeking volunteers with expertise in specific areas, including youth representation. Referrals are coming through the probation department, from coaches, and there is always word of mouth.
“To get a good mix, we try to seek one city council member, someone from Health and Human Services, Parks and Rec, the police department, city college, a community representative, coaches, and a player’s representative,” he said.
Johnson, a retired diversity officer for the city, said their program holds a lot of good prospects for the future, especially coming under the national Midnight Basketball League logo, which brings more support to help local kids.
“We’ve got some distinguished folks on our honorary board as well as some good workaholics and distinguished people on the advisory board,” he said. “It’s all about we’ve got to give back and do what we got to do to make this a better world especially for our youth.”
To find out more about the Long Beach Midnight Basketball League, email firstname.lastname@example.org