Thomas, Townsend, and Sharpton Use Entertainment and Film to Combat Youth Violence

Dan Cartwright, co-owner of TDS Guns, places a semi-automatic pistol on display at his store in Rocklin, Calif., Friday, July
Dan Cartwright, co-owner of TDS Guns, places a semi-automatic pistol on display at his store in Rocklin, Calif., Friday, July 27, 2012. The California Department of Justice expects 725,000 weapons will be legally purchased in 2012, 100,000 more than last year and nearly twice the 371,000 guns legally purchased five years ago.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

One of the most striking aspects of many urban communities is the vast amount of talent that is wasted. Many of the young people that reside in these areas are immensely talented and gifted but do not receive the appropriate encouragement, direction, or guidance to realize the full extent of their abilities. One can't help but wonder about the unrealized talent of the teenage defendants who walked into a Bronx courtroom last Friday to stand trial for the killing of 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan by a stray bullet earlier this year when a crossfire broke out during a charity basketball game in the Bronx on July 22.

The heartbreaking death of Morgan sparked the National Action Network's "Occupy the Corners" Movement in August and September where members of the organization stood on some of the most violent corners of New York City from the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights in an effort to curb the violence across the city. In an atmosphere of steep budget cuts to social programs and services aimed at urban areas at the federal, state, and local level; communities must find innovative ways to provide positive options for young people. Opportunities and avenues where their talent can be embraced, valued, and appreciated are desperately needed. This has been the key to the consistent success of individuals and teams from schools located in areas of concentrated poverty on the basketball court and on football field.

One example of an organization that has provided an important avenue for urban youth to uncover and display their skills is the Harlem-based Sharpton Entertainment. The community outreach program and entertainment agency focuses on exposing underground talent through showcasing, branding, media, and network opportunities in the urban and mainstream markets of modeling, clothing design, and performing arts. The organization's President and Founder, Ashley Sharpton (Reverend Al Sharpton's youngest daughter), stated that "we empower young adults in the arts by challenging them to prove their skills. Our goal is to produce a show in every major city to allow participants the opportunity to create and brand themselves in a way that may have not been seen before."

NBA Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas and renowned filmmaker Robert Townsend are making similar efforts on a grand scale in the Overtown community of Miami. Overtown, a neighborhood that sits in the shadow of Miami's pristine skyline, has been plagued by crime and has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. It is here that Thomas and Townsend have launched a community film initiative that promotes non-violence. Their film project, Playin' For Love, centers around the relationship between a high school basketball coach and his players will begin shooting in the neighborhood this month.

The film initiative will include a movie production and student training program that is designed to provide community youth a positive alternative to violence. Youth will be trained in a myriad of functions pertaining to making an independent film including cinematography, directing, editing, and production design. Auditions were recently held in Miami for young male actors that could play basketball. No experience was required; just a desire to express their talent and ability. "This project was created to give young people something to say 'yes' to," Thomas said. "This is not just using the arts and sports to engage young people; it's using both to give them an opportunity to grow and learn."