Not far from Hospitality House’s unassuming brick building in north Minneapolis, Wally Chapman saw signs of a divided community.
Hospitality House is an after-school academic and athletic program for at-risk youth from kindergarten through 12th grade. The nonprofit is located in a Minneapolis neighborhood where the relationship between residents and police has at times been tense.
As a member of Hospitality House’s board of directors, Chapman, director of RBC Wealth Management’s Central Division, saw a unique opportunity for the organization to help mend the divide.
“Hospitality House was right in the midst of everything,” he says. “I thought, what if we could find a way to build some bridges in the community?”
To do so, he turned to the sport of basketball.
Through a friend at the Minneapolis Police Department, Chapman knew that the police have a basketball team. So does Hospitality House, where basketball is a popular activity. Chapman wondered: What if we could get the police and kids together for a game?
He proposed the idea to fellow RBC Wealth Management employee Ruth Moehn Barnes, who volunteers as a basketball coach at Hospitality House, and then to the rest of Hospitality House's board.
Photo courtesy of Hospitality House.
“We all agreed with him that it would be a great idea,” says Jill Vanden Heuvel, Hospitality House’s development director. “We’re a part of this community, and we want to work with people in this community to build that bridge.”
The Minneapolis Police Department also jumped at the opportunity to participate, says Lt. Michael Friestleben, who leads the department’s Community Engagement Team and was one of several police officers who traded their uniform for a basketball jersey to play in the game.
“When they asked, it was big,” Friestleben says. “It’s a huge deal when we can put kids and cops in the same room and get along.”
More than 300 community members attended the game, held on a Saturday afternoon in Hospitality House's gym. Trent Tucker, a former University of Minnesota and professional basketball player who is now the director of district athletics for the Minneapolis Public School District, was the celebrity referee for the game. The Minnesota Timberwolves lent their mascot, Crunch, for the afternoon, to help lead cheers and pump up the crowd, and local press showed up to document the event.
At halftime, RBC Wealth Management presented a donation of $10,000 to Hospitality House to support the organization’s mission of giving local kids the tools they need to succeed in life.
And following the game, attendees and police officers all sat down together for a meal, which offered an additional opportunity to talk and get to know each other.
The basketball game clearly resonated with the community, Vanden Heuvel says.
“It meant a lot to the families, that law enforcement was interested in getting to know them,” she says. “I think it showed the kids that we’re all part of the same community, we’re all here together.”
“The game helped show that the cops aren’t bad people, that these kids aren’t bad people,” Chapman adds.
Photo courtesy of Hospitality House.
For those keeping score, Hospitality House's team officially won the game, but the result wasn’t quite as important as the fact that on that Saturday afternoon, the community was able to gather together in a fun, encouraging atmosphere.
“On the court, it was all positive,” Friestleben says. “We had a dialogue with the kids, and everyone was getting along.”
“It was a great honor to be there,” he adds, thanking Hospitality House and its executive director, Rev. Johnny Hunter, for inviting the Minneapolis police to participate.
And in the weeks since the event, both Friestleben and Vanden Heuvel say they’ve noticed that the relationship between the police and the kids who participated in the game has warmed. That’s a small step in the right direction, they say.
“Now, if the kids see me anywhere, they know they can come up and talk to me,” Friestleben says. “That’s where we need to get to.”
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