Seeking to build not only quality basketball players but even better people every season since he became Howard University’s basketball head coach, Kenneth Blakeney and his team have sought to do their part in addressing different societal issues.
Endeavors in previous years have focused on financial literacy, black maternal health, and voter registration.
This year’s project focuses on the juvenile system in Washington, D.C.
Coach Blakeney said the team will be mentoring youth at a Washington D.C. juvenile detention center through a nine-week program put together by the Youth Justice Advocates, which is a student-led organization within Howard’s Office of the Dean of the Chapel.
“It is an honor to partner with our champion Men’s Basketball team on their social justice project this season,” said Assistant Dean for Religious Life and YJA Advisor Nisa Muhammad. “These athletes are some of the most prominent and well-known members of our campus community, with a commitment to social justice forged on a campus embedded with advocacy. Their presence at the center will greatly enhance the weekly experience for the kids we meet with, as many of them look to become college athletes themselves one day.”
During a recent MEAC basketball coaches conference, Blakeney was asked how the juvenile system was zeroed in on as this year’s project.
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“In November, Muriel Bowser, our mayor here in D.C., had a State of D.C. [public emergency declaration] where [she addressed] two things that were really important to her. One was the opioid addiction here in Washington D.C., and the other was juvenile crimes here in the District,” Blakeney said. “Being from this area, it reminded me when I was growing up where D.C. was the crack capital of the world and also considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, the murder capital of the world. I thought with our players, some of them have such a civic background and an affinity for things they want to do in the future, they chose the juvenile system and being able to work at the DC Juvenile Center.”
According to a report from the D.C. Policy Center, a non-partisan think tank, between 2016 and 2022, the Metropolitan Police Department averaged 2,235 arrests per year under the age of 18. This arrest rate is nearly twice that of across most of the country over that same period.
Raw data from the MPD indicates there were 1,682 juvenile arrests in 2022, which dwarfs the numbers from 2014 and 2015. After a steady decline in such arrests in 2017-2021, there has been a rise in juvenile arrests for violent crime in 2022 with 326, a number that was surpassed in the first six months of 2023 with 363.
“For our players to decide to pay it forward this year to the D.C. youth community is particularly meaningful to me,” says Coach Blakeney. “I know I would have never been able to become the man I am today without positive mentors like Dr. Joe Carr, Ed Hill, Geoff John, Morgan Wootten, Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker, and Coach K. Our players now have the opportunity to become a similar light for the next generation, a responsibility I am excited to see them take on.”
Coach Blakeney added, “If there’s any way for us to help with mentoring, our guidance and our presence there. It certainly something that is needed here in Washington.”