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Hope for a ‘Hidden City’

Manchester guard from troubled Chicago neighborhood helps kids find a haven on the court

Kenny Doss (right) is following in the footsteps of his father, Kenny Sr., using basketball to engage youths in Chicago’s Englewood area. Ekemini Akpan photo

Having grown up in the tough Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Kenny Doss is aware of the negativity surrounding what he calls “the hidden city.” It’s an area of 3 square miles that counts NBA star Derrick Rose and Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson as natives, but is perhaps better known for its violent crime rate.

Other Acts of Kindness:

Hoosier Hospitality: The Indiana softball team made longtime fan Savannah Boone an honorary member of the Hoosiers, complete with a jersey and her own locker, thanks to the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. Boone, who has battled brain tumors and is currently in remission, threw out the first pitch at the Cream and Crimson fall scrimmage.

Cleansing the Soles: Being part of Wingate’s School of Sport Sciences Leadership Academy has been especially impactful for junior track and field athlete Ruva Mzinde. The Zimbabwe native and her peers in the program were part of the Shoes of Hope shoe distribution program through Samaritan’s Feet. They washed children’s feet and placed them in new socks and shoes during the event at Benton Heights Presbyterian Church in Monroe, North Carolina. They also spent a weekend serving at Victory Junction Camp in Randleman, North Carolina.

Character Building: College of Mount St. Vincent men’s basketball seniors Andrew Curiel and Neeko Zeno created the Be You Stay True program to teach youth the fundamentals of basketball while promoting character and achieving academic success. The free summer camp for inner-city children has grown since its creation three years ago and includes various opportunities for members, including the opportunity to play on the home court of the Dolphins during the season.

Recruiting With Impact: The Saint Augustine’s football team mentored Carter Pepper through Team Impact, a national nonprofit organization that connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams. Head coach Tim Chavous and several football players also attended the birthday party of their honorary team member, who became a Falcons recruit during a mock signing day ceremony and attended practices and games. Carter has a rare blood disorder.

“When you talk about Chicago and the greatness that the city has to offer, people don’t talk about my side,” the 6-foot-1 Manchester basketball guard says. “People don’t talk about, ‘How can we help the people in this area? How could we make the education for these kids and this community better?’ So, I like to call it the hidden city because it’s the place that no one wants to talk about.”

Doss, a first-generation college student, wanted to bring some positivity to his old neighborhood. Taking a cue from his father, Kenny Sr., and uncle George Jones, who already were working with area youths, Doss knew one way to help was bringing kids and young adults together through the game of basketball to offer them a haven on the court.

“I feel like basketball saved my life,” says Doss, who lost his first friend to gun violence in the seventh grade. “I didn’t have time to get into that much trouble because of basketball. My mother and my father also taught me right from wrong, preached that school was the most important thing.”

Doss, 22, explains one goal of the Bridging the Gap Globally program he runs with his family is knocking down barriers. If people are familiar with one another, he says, they won’t be so quick to resort to violence.

When Doss’ family and community members first set up at the Playground Park off South Halsted Street in 2011, there wasn’t even a basketball goal on the pole sticking out from the broken concrete. They swept up the broken glass, laid new concrete and even erected bleachers.

In 2016, the first Bridging the Gap Globally basketball event that Doss helped run included 40-50 participants in a weeklong tournament. Last summer, the program grew to eight teams of 10 in a summer-long tournament, as well as all-star games, dunk contests, 3-point shootouts and skills challenges. Participants remained motivated and engaged. There were no incidents or fights, Doss notes.

“What I tried to do is make it so that instead of them going off and doing other things, putting themselves in harm’s way, they have something to look forward to every day,” he says.

After every game, Doss tries to leave the participants with a message, such as how to conduct themselves in public or break down a situation.

Doss wants the Bridging the Gap Globally court to be a place where they can be who they are and just have fun. Everything at every event is free. The neighborhood pitches in with hot dogs, chicken and hamburgers so no one goes hungry.

“When we were all growing up, we had dreams of becoming professional athletes, being successful people in life,” he says. “But as time goes on, different people go different ways. Not that they’re bad people, but they just became a victim of their environment that we lived in.”

Tired of chasing his own hoop dreams, Doss ended up at Manchester, a small Division III school in northern Indiana. Doss, who was behind academically after first attending three other schools, credits Joe Messer, a professor in the College of Business, for selling him on the idea of making an investment in himself. Doss says he walked into Messer’s office a timid kid who had no idea what he wanted to do and walked out knowing his purpose in life. He now is taking classes such as business law, entrepreneurship and marketing with an eye on working in sales. He expects to graduate in December 2018.

“In Chicago, a lot of people have this swagger in the way they talk to people to get people to do certain things whether good or bad,” he says. “I’m just learning being a salesman is the same thing, so why not take everything that I learned from where I’m from and turn it into a positive? So, instead of me selling drugs and convincing people to buy these drugs, I can convince you to buy my roofing for your house.”

He also dreams of opening a Bridging the Gap Globally Center in Englewood, with proper funding and facilities. Doss wants it to be a safe place that provides meals, tutoring, role models and hope.

“My ultimate goal,” Doss says, “is to have a facility that kids know when they walk through our doors there’s hope, and they can overcome any obstacle in life.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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