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Youth basketball league works to make Grand Rapids a safer community

In 2000, Al Rice Jr. wanted to make a difference in his city, and chose basketball at MLK Park as the catalyst, starting the Urban Youth Summer Basketball League.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The NBA Draft wasn't the only basketball event on Thursday night. Some of Grand Rapids' residents used the sport to make a difference in their community.

The Urban Youth Summer Basketball League has welcomed kids from ages 11 to 14 to play for more than two decades now, using the sport to mold the community's youth into better athletes and better people.

"Changing lives, changing our environment and cleaning our environment," says Jermaine Carter, a UYSBL organizer.

The league began in 2000 under Al Rice Jr.

"I love everybody," says Rice Jr. "I love everybody and we're trying to make a change in Grand Rapids."

Rice wanted to make a difference in his city, and chose basketball at MLK Park as the catalyst.

"The inner city has problems like any other city," he says. "But we're trying to make it known that this is a safe park to be."

Jermaine Carter helped recruit kids to the league.

"I went to every park, I went to kids walking up and down the street with nothing to do and I asked them, hey man, y'all want to do something?" he says. "Y'all play any ball?"

He also hopes that getting them off the street and onto the court will help make his hometown safer.

"I see kids now that they don't even get past 13, 14 years old," says Carter. "They're losing their lives. We're changing that."

City leaders are taking notice.

As a violent year in Grand Rapids continues on, with a shooting near MLK Park killing two Thursday morning, police chief Eric Winstrom is proud to see community members get involved.

"To see the adults in this neighborhood step up and put this on, take the time out of their day for their own kids, for strangers that they've never even met, just to provide a fun and safe event for young kids, it's fantastic," says Winstrom.

Carter is proud as well, and more than happy to provide.

"We're trying to create something for them to enjoy, something for them to actually come and have some fun and not think of the negative things in our community," says Carter.

Thursday's game was an exhibition of former league stars, and was attended by Grand Rapids native and Michigan State alum Marcus Bingham Jr. The league's regular season begins on July 6th.

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