The Chicago Westside Police and Youth Sport kicked off its 2019-20 season at Melody Public School, 3937 W Wilcox St., on Dec. 19. The organization is an extension of the kind of community outreach that is necessary for preventing crime and bolstering the quality of life in a community, law enforcement officials said. 

Jarold Spencer, the 11th District Police Commander, grew up in West Garfield Park and attended the school when he was a child. He said that he was glad to see the kind of activity he was involved in as a child flourish in 2019. 

Yolanda Talley, the new 15th District commander, agreed. 

“This program keeps kids out of trouble and teaches them skills that come with basketball along the way,” she said. “Our youth are important. Whatever they need, we want to make sure they get it.”

William Martinez, the 15th District youth liaison officer who serves as a coach and mentor for the Austin team, said that he has been pleased with the young peoples’ growth. 

“It’s actually an amazing feeling, because we see them three times a week now,” he said. “And it’s amazing actually seeing them grow and actually taking the constructive criticism.” 

Martinez added that he was pleased to see parents participate and share their experiences with their children.

The young players who spoke at the conference said they enjoyed being able to play, and that it was “fun” and a chance “to try out different stuff.”  

John Kelly, a pastor at Austin’s Chicago West Bible Church, that he and his congregation got involved out of their love for the community’s residents. 

“We actually feel we have an obligation to love our neighbors as [we love] ourselves, and we feel that there’s no demographic that needs more love than our children,” he said. “When we bring everyone together, we’re all focused on the kids in the community and we all bring our resources forward.”

Melody Principal Tiffany Tillman urged the students and kids from other schools “to be disciplined and to pay attention, because you never know when it’s going to be your break.” 

The fact that so many police officers, members of the clergy and nonprofit staff showed up to support the conference, she said, should tell them something.

“That shows how it takes the village to raise all of you,” Tillman said. “We’re here for you. You’re our next future leaders.”

In a follow-up interview, she said that the conference gave her an opportunity to provide more learning time.

“That’s why I love this program, because it’s an extra tool for me to improve the academics on the West Side,” Tillman said. 

Stephanie Marquardt, the executive director of City of Refuge Chicago, asked all players to come up to the front, so that everyone in attendance could get a good look at them.

“Look at these beautiful children,” she said. “You wat to know what your future is? It’s all here. There’s nothing that our kids cannot accomplish if the support is given, if the opportunities are given.”

And Marquardt said that the conference will help improve police and community relations. 

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes the school, echoed that point.

“Your first interaction with the police officer shouldn’t be on the hood of a car; it should be in programs like this,” he said. “This may be a person you may need help from, or you may decide that this is the job you want. We need young men like you.”

Andrea Smith-Tart, of Austin, has her two sons, Avion and Jayden Tart, playing on the Austin team. Living in Austin, she said, her kids don’t go outside much, so she is grateful that the conference exists.

“It gives my children an opportunity to be in a safe place, where they can meet their peers, get social skills and learn discipline that will transfer to the classroom,” Smith-Tart said.


Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...