With frantic little-kid energy, the Panthers under-10 boys basketball team races around the pavement lot next to the Shields-Reid Park in North Richmond. The kids are fresh from a 42-0 victory over the El Cerrito team, their third straight victory in their youth league. Some of the kids play a pick-up game against their coaches—older boys, brothers, cousins, neighbors—who shout directions and jokes.
Around the edges of the court, kids drift in and out of the game, jousting with each other on wobbling two-wheel rip sticks, or chasing after the kid on the miniature motorbike. The biker veers wildly through the basketball players, then narrowly avoids a concrete column next to the building. He stops at the other end of the lot, and a jostling crowd of kids gathers around. One of them claims the bike. He opens the throttle and zips away out over the grassy field behind the lot with a weed-whacker whine.
“Someone’s gonna bust their head,” says Garland Harper, watching from the edge of the lot.
“Oh yeah,” says Mike Williams, grinning.
It is a sunny Saturday morning. Williams and Harper are president and vice-president of 1Richmond, a group of African-American men who aim to help young kids avoid the challenges of growing up in Richmond through sports, education and mentoring.
Earlier that morning, Williams picked up a half dozen of the kids in a van and drove them from North Richmond to their game at the Richmond Police Activities League building. After the game he shuttled them back across the tracks.
The problem, he says, is that teams from other parts of town don’t want to come play in North Richmond—it’s got a bad reputation, run-down facilities, and most importantly, it sits on the middle of the ongoing feud between rival gangs in North Richmond and South and Central Richmond. North Richmond is the city’s poorer, unincorporated side, its isolation from the rest of Richmond made visually clear by the railroad tracks that mark its borders.
“This is one of those places that no one wants to come to,” Williams says.
Team moms Shanell Williams and Rokeisha Moore stand next to Williams and Harper. Last year, they were the ones driving the kids to games across town, and they say they’re glad 1Richmond is filling in.
A disheveled group hangs around the chain link behind the field. Drunks, Moore says, rocking her six-month-old daughter with one arm. A train whistle howls, close by.
Williams says he doesn’t mind driving. It’s worth it, he says. His hope is that if kids from different parts of town get to know each other growing up, maybe they’ll be less likely to shoot at each other when they’re older.
Harper agrees. “We’re trying to break the cycle of them not being able to go outside they tracks when they grow up,” he says.
The kid on the bike passes close by, yelling. He stops the bike and two smaller kids hop on.
Williams watches. “I want them to be alright,” he says.