Basketball camp on West Side keeps kids busy at night: ‘It’s what I’d call a safe haven’

Drequan Barnett takes the pass behind the 3-point line. He crosses right past one defender, left on another and shoots before a third defender can reach him. The ball wobbles coming off his hand, but the 13-year-old sinks it.

“Yeah, they say he can ball,” says his smiling mother, Carlessa Ellis, watching from the sideline of the gymnasium at an East Garfield Park church.

Barnett was among about 20 boys playing basketball last week at the Night Shift, a basketball camp held twice a week at the gym, part of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd.

It was started by Ron “Yung” Henderson, Kevin Miller and Deonte Bell as a way to keep kids off the streets while some parents may be working — which is how it got its name.

The three grew up on the West Side and were inspired by the midnight basketball league they used to play in.

“This is a little bit of what we grew up on,” said Miller, who played at George Westinghouse College Prep.

Night Shift co-founders Kevin Miller, Ron 'Yung' Henderson, and Deonte Bell talk amongst each other

Night Shift basketball camp co-founders (from left) Kevin Miller, Ron ‘Yung’ Henderson and Deonte Bell started the camp to give young people something to do and keep them off the streets in the evening.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Henderson, Bell and Miller don’t attend the church but with the pastor, Rev. Johnny L. Miller, volunteering at church events. The two Millers are not related.

“With all the shootings going on, it’s what I’d call a safe haven,” said Rev. Miller.

Four people were shot about a block away from the church on July 23, and there have been three other mass shootings in the neighborhood in the last three months. Most of those who show up — all boys tonight, but girls are welcome, too — come from Garfield Park or Lawndale, two West Side neighborhoods that are among the most dangerous in Chicago.

The problem, Henderson and the others think, is there’s nothing for kids to do.

“Kids, 13, 14, 15 years old, they have no place to go,” says Henderson, 46. “Everything shuts down at 5 o’clock. That’s why we started the Night Shift.”

The camp runs from 5:45 to 7:45 pm on Tuesdays and 5 to 7 pm on Thursdays. The partners hope to expand to five days a week and offer other activities, such as a computer class, help with homework, even drum line.

There’s no cost and no need to register. Just show up.

Monique McGhee (left) and Davida Wright watch the action during the Night Shift basketball camp in East Garfield Park.

Monique McGhee (left) and Davida Wright watch the action during the Night Shift basketball camp in East Garfield Park. The mothers said they appreciate the program for providing a safe space for their boys in the evening.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Inside the gym, a larger group of boys takes one half and a handful of boys takes the other. Adults give pointers on both sides and mothers Davida Wright and Monique McGhee watch with Ellis from the sidelines with their daughters.

Taking the boys to play basketball indoors was an easy sell, they say, and one which they were glad to have due to violence in the area.

“That’s why we got to keep them locked in like this,” Ellis says looking around the gym.

Among the first-timers at Tuesday’s camp was Justin Bowen, 17, Deonte Bell’s nephew.

Taking a breather after a game, he nods to the larger group of players.

Justin Bowen tries to get by his cousin, Dontae Bell, during the Night Shift basketball camp.

Justin Bowen tries to get by his cousin, Dontae Bell, during the Night Shift basketball camp in the gym at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd. in East Garfield Park. Bowen is the nephew of Night Shift co-founder Deonte Bell, Dontae’s dad.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“These are the ones still trying to learn to hope,” says Bowen, who lives in Lawndale. “These ones already know to hope,” he adds, gesturing to the group he just came from.

Tray Perkins, a special education paraprofessional at Moving Everest Charter School in Austin, gives the more advanced boys pointers as they play King of the Hill. The 41-year-old likes the drill because he says it teaches critical thinking skills. The player on offense receives the ball at the top of the key and can dribble the ball only once before trying to get off a shot.

“You got to think about what you can do to get your defender off balance,” he says.

It’s tough. Deshaun Hudson returns to the larger group, where they’re playing 4-on-4, first team to 7 wins. Deshaun, 16, is the oldest of McGhee’s four boys at the camp. He considers himself more of a football player but appreciates the lessons in basketball.

“I like that we get trained to play basketball,” Deshaun says, “instead of being worried about shootings.”

Kevin Miller (left) helped found the Night Shift basketball camp and Tray Perkins, a special education paraprofessional at Moving Everest Charter School, volunteers there.

Kevin Miller (left) helped found the Night Shift basketball camp and Tray Perkins, a special education paraprofessional at Moving Everest Charter School, volunteers there. The men help lead the more advanced players through drills to improve their skills.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The four boys, along with Barnett and another boy at the camp, Danny Irvin, usually play at Millard Park in Lawndale but feel unsafe there.

“There’s a lot of shootings going on,” says McGhee. “He was scared because of that,” she adds, referring to her youngest, Demarion McGhee, 12.

“That’s why we stay in the house and don’t go over sometimes,” Demarion says.

He sets up a few chairs to run a drill after their time in the gym is officially up. It’s a crossover drill that has him shoot from beyond the arc. One of the shortest boys on the court, he dribbles around the two chairs and hits the 3-point shot with confidence.

It’s early days for the camp, which started in July, and more kids come every week, but the founders expect it to continue to grow.

“If it’s 50 kids in here,” Miller says, “that’s 50 kids that won’t get shot.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times viaReport for Americaa not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

Danny Irvin (center) and Demarion McGhee (right) were among the players at the Night Shift basketball camp in East Garfield Park.

Danny Irvin (center) and Demarion McGhee (right) were among the players at the Night Shift basketball camp in East Garfield Park. The camp is held at the gym of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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