North St. Louis nonprofit hosts second annual ‘Guns down, hoops up’ basketball tournament, aims to change community culture

Published: Oct. 23, 2022 at 6:49 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - A north St. Louis nonprofit is doing its part to start a conversation about curbing gun violence by hosting an annual basketball tournament.

Mission St. Louis works to empower families and individuals for social and economic growth through relationships and opportunities. Jason Watson, the organization’s Director of Engagement, got the idea for the basketball tournament from his friend, Jessie Johnson.

“I lost my brother (to gun violence) in 2008 so I wanted to do something to remember him by,” Johnson said. “Him and I were always competing in sports, so I thought, let’s do a basketball tournament in his memory.”

The 3-on-3 tournament held at the Tandy Recreation Center began last year and continues to grow in size. This year, there were 10 teams in the bracket, with a championship game set for Saturday afternoon.

While it’s an opportunity for the community to come together, Watson also hopes it can be an outlet to blow off steam without resorting to violence.

“A basketball game ain’t gonna change all the violence in St. Louis, we’re not stupid enough to think that,” he said. “But we do believe it’s important to plant seeds. Every seed planted is important to the growth of something. This is just a seed that’s being planted.”

Johnson said the tournament can also serve as an example to younger members of the community, many of whom came out to watch siblings and family friends play on Saturday.

“It can show them there’s more than just the streets,” he said. “You can go to the YMCA or after-school programs to find something to do with their time and better themselves.”

So far this year, the City of St. Louis has recorded 157 homicides, the vast majority committed with firearms, according to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department statistics.

“This for us is really not just about basketball, but it really is about touching people and taking people’s dreams and allowing them to see their dreams can come into fruition,” Watson said. “We’re going to make sure others know the value of life is so important, we want to invest in life and not take life.”

The event also aims to bring the community together to honor those lost to gun violence. Mission St. Louis said the event would not be possible, free of charge, without the support of sponsors like Sanctioned, Prime 55, Youth Violence Prevention and the Rich Family Foundation.

“There is no, ‘I don’t like him, I don’t like him,’” Johnson said. “We all one on the court and we’re all trying to win in life and the game.”