A crowd of about 40 youngsters at the Arthur Christopher City Gym, across from Burke High School, patiently waited while adults reiterated the importance of reporting bullies before a basketball game between Larry Legend’s D.R.E.A.M.S. All-Stars and a Charleston Police Department team.
Then one young man, fifth-grader Antonio “A.J.” Hill, raised his hand and asked the question that was probably on the minds of all his peers.
“What happens if you report a bully and then he still comes after you? What do you do then?” Hill said.
The answer: Don’t stop — even if it means going to the police.
But that serious message was complemented by plenty of fun on a Saturday afternoon.
Lawrence Gadsden, who was born in the Bronx but has roots in Charleston, travels the country putting on about 70 basketball games with talented players, ranging from former NBA stars to local “street ballers.” Saturday afternoon’s game featured former College of Charleston star Sedric Webber, who played in the late 1990s.
The 48-year-old Gadsden started the program more than 20 years ago primarily focusing on drugs.
As a youngster, Gadsden played with future college and pro stars, including Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith and Walter Berry, but an eight-year struggle with cocaine extinguished his opportunity to play in college or the pros.
“At my age, I have no chip on my shoulder. My job now is to save souls. Somebody did it for me, over and over and over again, until I got out of it,” said Gadsden, who is a hospital construction foreman for Brasfield & Gorrie.
Saturday’s game was a captivating mix of serious competition and light-hearted plays. Youth were picked to play and often fed the ball for shots. At the half, the police led 36-33, but Larry Legend’s pulled off the win comfortably cruising to a 73-69 victory.
It was the third time this year that the police department’s East Side-based Community Action Team has played Larry Legend’s All-Stars, and it won’t be the last.
“This is going to be a regular thing,” said Sgt. John Lites, CAT team leader. “We have important messages to get out to the kids. We do it every day on the street. We’re letting the children know there are other options in their lives.”
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley stopped by to greet the teams and talk to the kids about bullying. Riley called the police department’s outreach effort a national-level model for “best practices” for progressive policing.
“One of the wonderful things about our city police department is the outreach component of their Community Action Team, or CAT team, on the East and West sides,” said Riley, noting that some children in those neighborhoods now aspire to be police officers and firefighters.
“They (the police) operate in a number of outreach initiatives that bring the kids together with the police department. They bond as friends. It’s just fabulous.”