Saint Sabina’s historic peace basketball tournament ready to roll

Pfleger: ‘Old ways ain’t working,’ Asa Powell: ‘It’s family time, now’

By Chinta Strausberg


Flanked by organizers of September 22nd “Peace” basketball tournament and representatives from four gangs in the Auburn Gresham community, Father Michael L. Pfleger Tuesday said the old ways of trying to end violence isn’t working so he and supporters are using old-fashion family tactics…love and offers of jobs as a new way of life.

Surrounded by Kobe Williams from the acclaimed documentary, “The Interrupters,” and Asa “Duce” Powell from his 5× a marketing company, Pfleger told reporters it has been a violent summer including over the weekend where five people were killed and more than 20 shot and yesterday one killed and more than 10 shot.

Saturday’s historic basketball tournament, which begins at 12 noon to 6 p.m. at the Saint Sabina ARK, 7800 S. Racine, is the first step in what Father Pfleger hopes will be the beginning of a peace truce for the Auburn Gresham community.

Referring to his weekly Friday night anti-violence marches, Pfleger explained how several weeks ago they raised the issue of holding a one-day peace agreement where representatives from the four Auburn Gresham gangs would play in a basketball tournament with the likes of former NBA legend Isiah Thomas, Chicago Bears’ J’Marcus Webb and others. They agreed.

Once Thomas agreed, Pfleger said soon even more NBA stars came board like Chicago Bulls star Joakim Noah and J’Marcus Webb,  Orlando’s Quentin Richardson, L.A. Clipper’s Bobby Simmons, Memphis Grizzlies Zach Randolph, Chicago’s Simeon’s Jabari Parker and the award-winning documentary star Kobe Williams. Pfleger’s dream of achieving peace in the community came one step closer to reality.

After the game, Pfleger said the youth will be taken to the basement where they will talk and “so we can come together as a family and see how we can build a relationship and put an end to some of the violence that is going on in the streets.”

For those who criticized Pfleger for hosting this peace basketball tournament, he told them, “You do what you’re doing, and we’re going to do what we are doing. We believe that this is a great thing. We believe it’s a positive thing, and we believe it will make a positive difference….

“The old ways ain’t working; so we got to try some new ways to build relationships and come together and I believe this is a new way,” said Pfleger.

Williams and Powell grew up in the Auburn Gresham community and both are concerned about the gangs blamed for a rash of shootings and killings in recent months. “We’re here to just bridge the gap and bring everybody together and let people understand just because you have disagreements you ain’t got to fight and shoot each other,” said Williams. “We want to make a big difference in this community and other communities.”

Saying it is important to reach the young people, Williams said one thing they won’t do is to be judgmental.  His goal is to work with them, educate them and “will not give up on this. We are not just going to have a tournament and that’s it. We’ll continue and continue” to work with them.

And, that is what Father Pfleger did with Powell, 43, a gangbanger since the age of 10 and who has served eight-and-a-half years in federal prison for a drug conspiracy case.  When Powell got out of prison 12-years ago, police were harassing him. He went to Father Pfleger fearing police would plant drugs on him, and Pfleger intervened.

Explaining, Pfleger said many times when a man gets out of prison “you can’t get a job. There’s a marker on them… That’s got to change. We got to call these businesses to open up and give brothers and sisters to give them an opportunity. You can keep telling someone don’t go back to prison and never give them a change,” Pfleger said.

“Stop turning away folks with a felony. Because you have a record, stop holding them captive for the rest of their lives. Give somebody a chance. Give them a job,” Pfleger said explaining he will be a lobbyist for this cause.

But, then there are some who get out of jail or prison “who want to hold on to their reputation.” Pfleger said some officers felt Powell would fall back into his old habits, but Pfleger told them to give him another chance. He told the police, “Don’t put anything on him. Don’t hound him. Don’t stop him. Don’t pull him over. Give him a break…. That story as great as it is could be a story about anybody here if you give them a chance.”

Father Pfleger, who saw potential in Powell, talked to the police and told them to leave him alone and to allow him achieve his goals. It worked and today, Powell is one of the biggest urban and celebrity party promoters in the Midwest.

Once a student at the Saint Sabina Academy, Powell said he’s a “product of the street” but with the help of Father Pfleger, his godfather, Nation of Islam Ibrahim A-S Muhammad, who first met him 27-years ago and became his surrogate father, and his mentor, Victor Woods, he was able to change his life around.

Today, Powell lives downtown. “If I can take ten of them to live with me downtown, their whole world is different, but if I have to live where they live every day, there are different things I face. My son goes to daycare on the Magnificent Mile but the same lady who owns that daycare center owns the one at 79th and Halsted.

“She just told me they teach my son in class downtown fire drills but they teach the daycare students at 79th and Halsted drive-by drills.” Powell said it is the environment that shapes their lives. “You have to be exceptional to dodge everything…”

Raised on 79th Street, Powell said the purpose of Saturday’s game “is to bring some camaraderie between different factions” of the youth. Powell said their agreement “is a great start” but that he doesn’t want to see it labeled as a “gang or violence tournament.”

“What they are bringing to the table is positive outreach “and love and we will not give up on you” including the celebrities who have confirmed their presence. “We want a positive vibe. We have over ten celebrities coming to this…it’s a great start,” said Powell.

“I’m a product of this community. I’ve been in trouble. I’ve been in the federal penitentiary. I had a lot of help along the way and for 12-years I’ve been doing productive things and giving back to the community. If I can come out of this community, a lot of them can. We just need a little love and a little friendship,” said Powell.

Williams said, “It’s all about the youth” and teaching them how to build a relationship with each other.

A youth who identified himself as Donnie, better known as “Smiley,” said, “It’s about a safer environment. Peace. Enjoy yourself and get something out of it. Stop the killing, man. It’s not working….”

“This is not a one-time thing, either,” said Pfleger explaining that he is offering the youth social services including GED and job readiness programs. “We are going to offer some jobs after the game.” Pfleger said Thomas, Richardson and Noah have committed themselves on a long-term basis.

Asked if this game could have been done without the celebrities, Williams said they could because of their relationship they have with the youth. Pfleger said Noah met with the youth last Sunday. “That has not been done. When was the last time you saw a NBA or NFL players come down in the middle of the neighborhood and say” they want to help. “That’s real key,” said Pfleger.

Powell, who grew up at 79th and Carpenter, said, “you’re environment and the block you grow up almost dictates that…. We don’t’ say the word gang too much….” Powell said they are working with youth from 59th Street to 87th Street from East to West.” “Everybody wants to do this and that’s a good thing.” “These kids love basketball and they love Hip Hop.” Powell said representatives from both professions would be present.

Williams said he and Powell were once a problem in the community but today they are a part of the solution. “It’s our job to make things right in the community and to help these guys get to the next level…. This is what they want to do…. It’s our job to make things right in the community,” Williams said.

Powell told reporters they know it won’t change things overnight. “The importance is after the game” when he, other celebrities talk to the youth. “That is what he did for me when I was on the street. I’m from here. I know his (Pfleger’s) heart. He wasn’t trying to put me in jail…. He was trying to save my life.” Powell said they will not give up “on the brothers” and that communications “go a long way.”

“A lot of folk, a lot of brothers are tired of what is going on out there, and sitting behind here is unbelievable potential, possibilities and dreams, and we just want to see what we can do to help them support them. We are not judging anybody. Those days are over. It’s time to say I’ll meet you where you’re at. Let’s love you, work with you and see how we can help you get back into GED…what ever we can do to help you reach your destiny,” said Pfleger.

 It has been along and sometimes dangerous mission Pfleger embarked upon, but he is driven by the number of shootings occurring in the Auburn Gresham community especially the number of children caught in the crossfire’s of gang violence. He is also driven by the memories of his own son, Jarvis Franklin, who was fatally shot on May 30, 1998 just blocks from Saint Sabina Church.

But, today, Pfleger is turning that pain into a new purpose—one of peace—and is offering youth a second chance on life. Some of the free programs he has include a new music studio, karate classes, a food pantry, GED, an employment center, dance and other social services like Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous programs that are accessible to everyone.

Saturday all of his outpouring of love and numerous meetings “with the brothers” will pay off when they the professional players will compete against Team 1 from 79th-85th Ashland, Paulina & Marshfield, Team 2 from 79th to 76th Carpenter, Morgan and Throop, Team 3, from 81st to 85th Racine & Throop and Team 4 from 79th to 76th Loomis, Ada, Bishop and Justine.

While the Joakim Noah Foundation is providing the Jersey’s for the four teams, the Nation of Islam has offered its Fruit of Islam for the security. Leona’s Restaurant is providing food.

Let the peace begin.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: