Just after the shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, a northern suburb of St. Louis, Rev. Alex Gee of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and two teenagers met with Madison Police Chief Mike Koval. They proposed an idea – to bring youth and police together by playing a basketball game against one another.

Koval loved it, so the group went about planning the first Play it Forward game in March of 2015. Then the shooting of Tony Robinson happened, just a week before the game was scheduled.

“We almost pulled it, but we did it, and we raised $10,000,” said Rev. Gee.

This past weekend, on April 9, the teams came together again. This time, they had a warm-up game between two middle school teams coached by Tutankhamun Coach Assad of the Mellowhood Foundation and Will Green of Mentoring Positives and the Salvation Army Darbo Community Center. The middle school players referred to it as the West vs. East All-Star game.

Basketball players get a T-shirt from Rev. Alex Gee at "Play it Forward."
Basketball players get a T-shirt from Rev. Alex Gee at “Play it Forward.”

“Rev. Gee and Chief Koval thought it would be a good idea to bring together two programs that are mentoring young men and be able to watch how the high school young adults carry themselves and to build relationships with the Madison police officers,” said West High School Multicultural Services Coordinator Sean Gray.

Funds support the Madison Schools’ Black Student Union college tour, an annual trip now in its eighth year in which high school students of color are taken to historical Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to inspire and motivate them to further their education. The tour often inspires students to pursue a higher education by showing college life.

During spring break of this year, a group of high school students toured North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Winston-Salem State University. A total of more than 100 high school students from all four Madison high schools went on the tour. In addition to visiting colleges, students learned about history.

This year, the group got to visit a museum to see the Woolworth’s lunch counter from Greensboro, North Carolina, that was the site of one of the most famous sit-ins of the civil rights movement.

“They see that someone before them sacrificed a lot so they could be in the position to attend not only historical black colleges, but other universities as well,” said Gray.
Gray noted that 75 percent of students who have gone on a tour apply for college. After going on a college tour a few years ago, Marshan Hall will graduate from Howard University this year, and will be attending medical school in the fall.

“The opportunity is just phenomenal for the kids. They come back just jazzed up and focused on what they want,” said West High Principal Beth Thompson.

“Getting a kid on campus is one of the best tools you have for getting a kid to go to college,” added Rev. Gee.

As for the games, the Salvation Army Soldiers middle school team beat Meadowood and the high school team beat the police.