Merging basketball teams fosters mentorship youth of Sacks

Hood Savior Inc. kicked off this summer with hopes to reach students on and off the courts. 

Though established as a basketball league at Sacks Playground, Hood, Savior, Inc. is aspiring to nurture children beyond the courts and into their classrooms and future careers through upcoming literacy, leadership and mentorship programs. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

As a student of George W. Nebinger Elementary School, Jamaine Arthur remembers keeping out of trouble through recreation at Sacks Playground, 400 Washington Ave. 

Growing into adulthood, though, he recalls the surrounding neighborhood starting to deteriorate. The collapse particularly included violence among local children and adolescents.

In an effort to revise this prevailing narrative, Arthur is fulfilling his dream of creating a youth mentorship program at his old stomping ground, as Sacks officially kicked off Hood Savior Inc. this summer. Though established as a basketball league, the organization is aspiring to nurture children beyond the courts and into their classrooms and future careers through upcoming literacy, leadership and mentorship programs.

“I just felt like kids needed more opportunities presented to them in order for them to want to strive to do better,” Arthur said.

Sponsored by the Committee to Rebuild Sacks Playground, along with support from former NBA star and South Philly resident Lionel Simmons, Hood Savior Inc. has been hosting free basketball training and games every Tuesday and Thursday evening this summer for various 16 and under and 12 and under teams at the Pennsport public space.

Arthur estimates close to 100 students have passed through the program throughout this summer, including children from beyond South Philadelphia.

Though Arthur had this plan for years, the vision was executed two months ago alongside his partner, Taryn Goldsmith, who serves as the organization’s executive director.  

“I wanted to focus on teaching them transferable skills and teaching them emotional intelligence,” Goldsmith said. “And some of those things that interfere with them being able to grow… There’s no real outlet for them. I believe that part of the problem is they don’t know how to start. They don’t know what’s available to them.” 

(Grace Maiorano/SPR)

Goldsmith says she’s heavily involved with regional mental health advocacy work, including Mood Swingin Inc., a local group “creating awareness and understanding of mental health in minority communities by combating stigma through advocacy, education and outreach.”

After relocating to the suburbs of South Jersey, Goldsmith, a Philadelphia native, noticed the plethora of concerns facing minorities residing in urban environments. 

Her personal and professional experiences have helped to shape the objectives of Hood Savior Inc.

“(The mission) is to positively impact the youth in underserved communities through education, empowerment and inspiration,” Goldsmith said. “Using a hands-on approach, we are dedicated to guiding youth toward positive lifestyle choices by helping them discover their potential and acquire the skills, confidence and motivation to become trailblazing members of their community.”

A “Hood Savior,” Goldsmith explains, is “someone who not only withstands the dangers of the inner city but also loves their neighborhood and has a desire to make it better for the community.”

Though Arthur and Goldsmith satisfy this definition, the pair hopes to foster a new generation of Hood Saviors.

As the summer basketball league finishes, Goldsmith says she’s working with two local teachers to arrange a literacy program, which will help students from kindergarten to 12th grade with reading and writing skills.

“You can expand your mind so much by just opening up a book and learning about different cultures and things,” Goldsmith said. “It doesn’t have to be textbooks. It can be fiction but you’re still learning through that, so I want to open that up.” 

As more leagues are added this fall, including flag football and double dutch, the educational programs will serve as an incentive to play sports, as students will be permitted on teams only if they participate in the literacy curriculum. Arthur and Goldsmith hope to host these programs in partnership with locals schools.

“I’m really focused on that more than sports,” Arthur said. 

For Arthur, it’s crucial for Hood Savior Inc. to welcome children as old as 18. In the past, youth have “aged out” of similar basketball leagues at Sacks, which incidentally leads them into trouble and sometimes tragedy. Arthur says a young adult who recently played on a basketball team at Sacks lost his life to gun violence in North Philadelphia earlier this year.

Both Hood Savior Inc. founders, along with its participants, say they’ve noticed prior tensions between surrounding neighborhoods, including residents living in nearby affordable housing, start to ease since the summer program began. 

(Grace Maiorano/SPR)

Teamwork cultivated during the game has expanded into their everyday lives. 

“It’s not a place for a child to be out on the streets without adult supervision,” said 14-year-old Luis Rodriguez. “So, this is a youth basketball league for children to stay off the street, so that you can have somewhere to chill, play. It’s a lot of competition but at the end of the day, we all shake hands and we all say, ‘Good game,’ because it’s all about brotherly love… In basketball, we show love. We don’t want to carry the beef that we had from the court out of the court because it causes trouble.”

On Saturday, Aug. 24, the organization will host a Savior Day featuring bookbag and school supply giveaways, games, raffles and the league’s championship event.

The giveaway drive is currently collecting donated school supplies and monetary donations through Aug. 20. 

Arthur and Goldsmith say they’re also currently seeking grants, donations and other sources of funding to sustain Hood Savior Inc. throughout the school year.

“It’s going to help the community out, and it’s going to help me out for going into high school,” said 14-year-old Demarcus Phillips. “They’re trying to revive the hood.”

To contact Hood Savior Inc., contact: 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano