Before serving on City Council, I’ve always been most comfortable on the basketball court. It’s where I spend time with my friends, where I can de-stress after a long day and where I can ground myself. In a world that is not always kind to a young, Black man, it’s where I’ve felt the most comfortable and the safest. In the midst of this gun violence crisis, it’s where I encourage our young people to stay safe and find themselves.

As a councilmember, I am dedicated to working on legislation, holding hearings and passing a budget that best represents Philadelphia. However, my first passion and my roots will always be youth programming. This year we will host my ninth annual Isaiah Thomas and Chris Woods Free Basketball Camp — a place for young people (athletes or not), ages 6-16, to enjoy quality and engaging programming.

We hold our camp later than most to give young people and families programming for the weeks between most free summer camps and the start of school. Whether during summer or after school, the unsupervised and unengaged time is when I worry most about our young people.

As a councilmember, coach and father, I am dedicated to filling this time with quality, supervised and engaging youth programming. When we give young people something to do, not just to fill time but to find their own passion, we put them on the path to success.

Some people see basketball as just a game. For a lot of these young people basketball can be a game but it can also be a chance at a scholarship, a job as a coach, or something positive to do in between school and dinner. The game teaches teamwork, discipline, inclusion and confidence, and builds incredible bonds that last on and off the court. The life lessons are countless. In a year defined by a global pandemic and a local gun violence crisis, these psychological and social skills are critical.

We have seen gun violence take lives across the city and spanning demographics. The issue is deep-seated and the solutions will not happen overnight. But while we work on systemic issues like good-paying jobs, quality education and stable housing, let’s do everything we can to keep our young people safe right now.

We need to continue to invest in quality and engaging programs such as athletics and arts with a heavy emphasis on mentorship. When young people find something they love and adults who care, they will make good choices. These young people, in turn, grow to be mentors for the next generation.

This is my ninth annual basketball camp and I plan to continue serving young people through athletics for years to come. We need to support all quality youth programming throughout the city — whether it's athletics, the arts, community service, etc. With mentorship, engagement, supervision and programs, we won’t solve the systemic issues of gun violence but we can keep our young people safe today.

Isaiah Thomas is a councilmember at-large representing the entire city as well as a boys basketball coach with Sankofa Freedom Academy.

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