By Chris Misun, Meridian, Miss.
In early 2011, the Church of the Mediator, in Meridian, Miss., installed another basketball rim. Why another? The previous two rims had been stolen during a crime spree that swept the church grounds on at least three different occasions starting in 2008. An article in the local paper, the Meridian Star, reported that the crimes first took place in the Parish Hall building on the church campus. Both instances targeted the church bookstore and parlor room. The third offense happened in the sacristy of the church. There they attempted to take a safe, which they were only able to move three inches.
The significance of installing yet another rim is that it is still remaining today. According to the Youth Director of the church, Katy Watkins, the hoop was originally intended for the Mediator youth, however, “…the neighborhood kids love to play basketball at the church after school and on weekends.”
According to Watkins, “The church is located in a neighborhood that is in transition racially. It is composed of primarily older Caucasian couples and young to older African-American families.”
Areaconnect listed the statistics for Meridian as being a majority black community with 54.37% of the population according to the 2000 census. Meridian, along with much of the southern states and cities in the United States, also experienced a great deal of struggle with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
The transition of racial majority in the neighborhoods hasn’t been an entirely easy move. There is some speculation to the true motives of a petition in the neighborhood to ban the neighborhood kids from playing basketball. One elderly Caucasian gentleman started the petition on the grounds that the, “bouncing of the ball bothers him and he reports that the players curse,” according to Watkins.
The petition received much opposition from other members at Neighborhood Watch meetings during early 2011. The basketball hoop now remains tied up until the church, which has received a grant, can find and hire someone to supervise and teach basketball skills to the neighborhood youth.
Aside from the basketball goal issue at Church of the Mediator, Meridian is still facing more challenges concerning its youth. WTOK reported in November 2011, that, “It is estimated that more than 60% of all crimes are committed by young people between the 16 and 19 years old. “
The story addresses the need for more youth rehab facilities in the state of Mississippi. Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie described that between the Sheriff’s Department and the City Police Department, they had “incarcerated at the Lauderdale County Juvenile Center close to 600 youth. Of that number, only six have been sent for long-term rehabilitated care.”
The City of Meridian wants to take action. A few weeks ago, WTOK produced another story about how the leaders of the city want to, “do a better job of embracing youth and teaching the importance of family values early on.”
Local Community Advocate and General Manager of New South Ford Nissan, Michael Van Veckhoven, takes the issue of family as a concern even farther.
“Meridian’s biggest concern, whether most of us realize it or not, is children being born illegitimately. It is an outright epidemic. When a male child is born into a single-parent home with no male role model, the odds for that child to make it through his first twenty-five years of life with a High School Diploma and without being incarcerated become greatly diminished.”
Areaconnect statistics from the 2000 census list that 23.34% of females live without a husband present in the home and 14.6% have children under the age of 18.
Van Veckhoven is also a Study-Buddy at Meridian Public School District and sees a difference in the sixth grade student he has worked with. “I have watched his attitude and grades improve since we started seeing each other. Imagine if the same could be said for every child in Meridian who needed this one-on-one time.”
Meridian is facing its struggles like most communities do, but also like most communities; they have members who are trying to make a difference. Whether it is having a study-buddy for kids at school or a place for kids to “unwind,” positive reinforcement seems to be the best remedy. Van Veckhoven agrees the basketball hoop at the Mediator is a stop in that direction.
“Having a safe, positive place for kids to “be kids” is a major part of this battle.” He continues, “Children must have that safe haven to turn to, and the Mediator basketball court is a perfect example.”
The fate of the basketball court remaining open to the children still hangs in the balance while the church still searches for someone to supervise basketball after school in the spring and in the summer.
A basketball lies on the ground at the empty basketball court at The Church of the Mediator in Meridian, Miss. Copyright 2012 Chris Misun
Rules are posted at the Mediator Basketball court in Meridian. Copyright 2012 Chris Misun
The basketball net at the Church of the Mediator in Meridian, Miss., is tied up due to some community members not pleased with kids playing basketball. Copyright 2012 Chris Misun