West Side basketball camp keeps kids busy at night: ‘It’s what I’d call a safe haven’

Dracwan Barnett catches a pass behind the 3-point line. He goes right past one defender, left at another and shoots the third defender before he can reach him. The ball falls from his hand, but the 13-year-old sinks it.

“Yeah, they say he can ball,” says his smiling mother, Carlisa Ellis, watching from the sidelines of a gymnasium at a church in East Garfield Park.

Barnett was among about 20 boys playing basketball last week at Night Shift, a twice-weekly basketball camp held in the gym, part of Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd.

It was started by Ron “Young” Henderson, Kevin Miller and Deontay Bell as a way to keep kids off the streets while some parents would be working – hence the name.

The trio grew up on the West Side and were influenced by the midnight basketball league they played in.

“It’s a little bit of what we grew up on,” said Miller, who played at George Westinghouse College Prep.

Night Shift Basketball Camp co-founders (from left) Kevin Miller, Ron ‘Young’ Henderson and Deonte Bell started the camp to give youth something to do and keep them off the streets in the evenings.

Anthony Vazquez/OlxPraca

Henderson, Bell and Miller do not attend church but meet the pastor, the Reverend Johnny L. Miller, who volunteers at church events. The two Millers are not related.

“With all the shots fired, I would call it a safe haven,” Reverend Miller said.

Four people were shot about a block from the church on July 23, and there have been three other mass shootings in the neighborhood in the past three months. Most of those who show up tonight — all boys, but girls are welcome — come from Garfield Park or Lawndale, two of Chicago’s most dangerous West Side neighborhoods.

The problem, according to Henderson and others, is that there is nothing for children.

“Kids 13, 14, 15, they have nowhere to go,” says Henderson, 46. Everything closes at 5 o’clock. That’s why we started night shift.

The camp runs on Tuesdays from 5:45 to 7:45 pm and on Thursdays from 5 to 7 pm. The partners hope to expand to five days a week and offer other activities, such as computer classes, homework help, even a drumline.

There is no cost and no need to register. Just show me.

Monique Mcghee (Left) And Davida Wright Watch The Action During The Night Shift Basketball Camp At East Garfield Park.

Monique McGhee (left) and Davida Wright watch the action during the night shift basketball camp at East Garfield Park. Mothers said they appreciate the program providing a safe place for their boys in the evenings.

Anthony Vazquez/OlxPraca

Inside the gym, a large group of boys take up one half and a handful of boys take up the other. Adults point to both sides and mothers Davida Wright and Monique McGhee watch with their daughters, Alice.

Getting the boys indoors to play basketball was an easy sell, he says, and one he was happy to get because of the violence in the area.

“That’s why we had to keep them locked up like this,” Alice says, looking around the gym.

Among the first-timers at Tuesday’s camp was Justin Bowen, 17, the nephew of Deontay Bell.

Taking a breather after the game, he nods to the large group of players.

Justin Bowen Tries To Get To His Cousin Donte Bell During Night Shift Basketball Camp.

Justin Bowen tries to pass his cousin Donte Bell during a night shift basketball camp in the gym at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd. in East Garfield Park. Bowen is the nephew of Night Shift co-founder Deonte Bell, Deonte’s father.

Anthony Vazquez/OlxPraca

“These are people who are still trying to learn to hoop,” says Bowen, who lives in Lawndale. “These guys already know how to hoop,” he says, pointing to the group he just came from.

Trey Perkins, a special education paraprofessional at Austin’s Moving Everest Charter School, gives the boys more advanced pointers while playing the role of King of the Hill. The 41-year-old likes the drill because he says it teaches critical thinking skills. The offensive player receives the ball at the top of the key and can only draw the ball once before attempting to take a shot.

“You have to think about what you can do to throw your defender off balance,” he says.

it is difficult. Deshaun Hudson returns to the big group, where he is playing 4-on-4, the first team to win 7. Deshawn, 16, is the oldest of McGhee’s four boys at camp. He considers himself more of a soccer player but appreciates basketball lessons.

“I like that we get to train to play basketball,” Deshawn says, “instead of worrying about shooting.”

Kevin Miller (Left) Helped Found The Night Shift Basketball Camp And Trey Perkins, A Special Education Paraprofessional At Moving Everest Charter School, Volunteers There.

Kevin Miller (left) helped found the night shift basketball camp and Trey Perkins, a special education paraprofessional at Moving Everest Charter School, volunteers there. The men help guide the more advanced players through drills to improve their skills.

Anthony Vazquez/OlxPraca

The four boys, along with Barnett and another boy at camp, Danny Irwin, usually play at Millard Park in Lawndale but feel unsafe there.

“There’s a lot of gunfire,” McGhee says. “He was scared because of it,” she adds, referring to her youngest, 12-year-old Demarion McGhee.

“That’s why we stay at home and sometimes don’t go out,” Demarion says.

He sets up a few chairs to run drills after his time at the gym is officially over. This is a crossover drill that shoots it from beyond the arc. One of the smallest guys on the court, he dribbles around two chairs and hits the 3-point shot with confidence.

It’s early days for the camp, which started in July, and more kids are arriving each week, but the founders expect it to keep growing.

“If there are 50 kids here,” says Miller, “that’s 50 kids that won’t get shot.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.Report for AmericaA nonprofit journalism program aimed at strengthening the paper’s coverage of communities across the South and West Side.

Danny Irwin (Center) And Demarion Mcghee (Right) Were Among The Players At The Night Shift Basketball Camp At East Garfield Park.

Danny Irwin (center) and Demarion McGhee (right) were among the players at the night shift basketball camp at East Garfield Park. The camp is held in the gym at Mount Vernon Baptist Church.

Anthony Vazquez/OlxPraca

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