On Saturday, children whose parents were incarcerated were on a basketball court in Prince George’s County to learn about the game – and overcome adversity.
On Saturday, more than 200 children were sweating on a basketball court in Prince George’s County, Maryland. They all had one thing in common: at least one of their parents is incarcerated.
The angel tree of the prison community organized and hosted the camp at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro.
Karen Lopez, director of church partnerships and Angel Tree Sports Camps, said events like these are meant to reveal a better path for these children.
“It’s about providing support and care to these families so that we can change the course of these children’s lives,” she said. “It’s meant to really connect them to a healthy community.”
While the main focus of this camp was basketball, the court was also used to discuss how to overcome adversity. And few know those challenges better than former professional basketball player Brandon Johnson.
“My message right now [is] just to give them hope,” Johnson said.
Johnson was once part of the Wizards and Suns organization of the NBA, playing on their G League teams.
Then, in 2013, Johnson was convicted of multiple counts related to an illegal sports betting ring while playing college ball at the University of San Diego.
He was sentenced to six months in federal prison.
“I lost it all in 30 seconds. But while you’re sitting there, and whatever you’re going through, you still have to have hope. You have to have faith,” Johnson told the children.
After serving his sentence, Johnson ended up playing professional basketball overseas in Europe, South America and China. He now runs a non-profit organization called AWAKENING programwhich supervises young people in detention centers for minors.
“So the same thing that fundamentally changed my life, changed my life even more right now,” Johnson said.
He, like many campers, also had a parent who was arrested and incarcerated when he was young.
“I saw my mom go to jail. I remember her crying in the middle of the floor,” Johnson told campers.
When his mother was sent to prison, he ended up moving in with his father, whom he had just met. It was around this time that he started playing basketball.
“It was the only thing that kept me grounded. I ended up homeless in ninth grade,” Johnson told the teenagers.
He eventually got a scholarship to play basketball at the University of San Diego. It was during this time that he also became involved in illegal gambling.
“I joined the mafia. I lost everything I worked for, because of a decision,” he said.
But for the young players at Saturday’s camp, Johnson’s message was one of hope and second chances. He shared with them how he later reunited with his family, achieved his dream of becoming a professional basketball player, and now spends his time trying to help others.
“No matter what decision you make, make sure your next decision is your best decision. It’s not giving up. God is the final judge and that’s what I’ve learned through this process.
Along with sharing his story, Johnson also played a bit one-on-one and offered advice to young players. Children attending Saturday’s camp also received a free pair of Nike basketball shoes.
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