RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Black Top Kings and Queens has had to shift gears during the pandemic from an after-school program/basketball academy to a school-hour “virtual hub” plus basketball program. It’s a necessary change to make during the current health crisis.
Normally, the youth sports academy would be meeting after school for a few games of basketball, but during the pandemic, it’s become a place for these kids to learn and later play some ball, but mostly, to stay out of trouble.
“Keeping the distractions and things that are going on: maybe at home, maybe in the neighborhoods or in the streets. Just keeping that down to a minimum," said founder Manny Harris.
He’s operated “Black Top” for eight years. It had to close down back in March but reopened two months later. The program had to reduce the number of kids it could accept, from 100 down to 60.
“April and May hurt us, financially. It was just wasn’t enough numbers coming through those doors," Harris said, adding that he’s currently in a legal battle for being behind on paying rent for the space, but he knows the importance of it to these kids, like Brianna Shelton.
“Not many kids get to have this, so I feel like this is educational but also helpful in the future,” Shelton said.
During his quarterly report yesterday, RPD Chief Gerald Smith briefly mentioned that partnering with youth basketball leagues was in the cards as a possibly crime-stopping initiative.
“It keeps me safe, and it keeps motivating me to do right," said Tayshaun Williams, another young person at Black Top.
Harris stressed the importance of a space like his academy, adding that the skills the kids learn in basketball extend to everyday life applications.
“We just try to keep them occupied, just keep them busy with basketball here. The determination, the drills, the work ethic - everything just comes together. Yes, It is saving their lives,” he said.
Harris says that the academy will be holding fundraisers to help raise money for rent moving forward. He has also set up a crowdfunding page to contribute, which can be found here.
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