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Wednesday, July 24, 2024


July 5, 2002 – They protect the public in their day jobs, but in their spare time they inspire the younger generation to higher heights on and off the basketball court. They are members of the Hoop Brothers, and they were among a dozen men honored recently by the Congressional Black Caucus.
There are three V.I. Hoop Brothers on St. Thomas — Damien Jackson, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office; Ernest Bason, who's in charge of the Criminal Division at the Attorney General's Office; and Gideon Garfield, chief of security for Chase Bank.
Once a week, 10 youths ages 12-17 converge on the courts at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School to get together with Jackson, Bason and Garfield for some shake-n-bake and some give and take.
After the games, Jackson said, the three men sit down with the group of youngsters and talk. About anything — basketball, school, girls, getting into college, world events, job applications, table manners, anything that's bothering them.
The point, he said, is the kids talk and the adults listen. And one night around 10:30 p.m., he said, all the talking and listening paid off.
"One of the hoop brothers was someplace he wasn't supposed to be. He called me and said, 'I'm out here with my friends. I know I'm not supposed to be here. Could you come and pick me up?'
"So I got in the car and went and picked him up," Jackson said, calling it his most rewarding moment.
Jackson helped bring the program to the Virgin Islands two years ago. He said he had been involved since 1996, when he first heard about Hoop Brothers in New York. "When I moved here in March of 2000, I ran into another one of the guys who was in the program, Guy Mitchell, and started the program," he said.
A onetime high school and college basketball player, he laughed when asked how his game is these days. "It's okay," he said. "It hasn't slipped that much."
Hoop Brothers got started after the 1995 Million Man March, where organizers called on participants to return to their communities and improve the lives of African-American families. Many of today's ball-playing mentors reportedly were not at the march but responded to the invitation.
Delegate Donna M Christensen praised the V.I. Hoop Brothers organization as it was recognized during Unsung Heroes Week, June 21-25.
"The Hoop Brothers are some very special young men who are fulfilling an important need all of our communities face — dwindling numbers of black men in schools of higher learning, in the job market, and even in their roles in the family," Christensen said in a release from her Washington office.
A member of Christensen's St. Thomas office staff said the time the Hoop Brothers spend on island basketball courts has made a difference for children of single-parent families. The volunteers received the Unsung Heroes award "because it's a mentoring group that assists young boys that don't have a father figure in their lives," she said.
Jackson didn't say anything about being an unsung hero, but he did say he would like to see more youngsters join the program.

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