By Wendell Hutson
The founders of the Youth Vision Integrity organization were honored at a weekend basketball game in Hyde Park for their community service.
After a 20-year hiatus an alumni basketball game was played Saturday at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave., between former youth members of the Youth Vision Integrity (YVI). The organization was founded in 1978 as a way to keep youth busy and off the streets.
“This is an old neighborhood program that most of us here grew up in when we were young and living in Hyde Park. The program kept us out of trouble and provided structure for us,” said Hyde Park resident Aaron “Lefty” Boyd, who organized the game and got the nickname lefty because he is left handed.
As executive director of the nonprofit I AM Chicago Basketball Inc. Boyd said basketball saved him from getting into trouble when he was growing up.
“I owe my life to the courts. It really gave me an alternative to the streets. The last time alumni came together for a game was in 1992,” recalled Boyd, 46, who attended Kenwood Academy High School. “Back then the game was played at an outdoor court by the Hyde Park Bank Building and was attended by people from all over.”
His advice to youth nowadays is simple.
“Stay in school, listen to adults, who are trying to help you, and get involved with something positive to occupy your time,” said Boyd.
After the game, YVI founders were honored with a plaque for their community service work and commitment to helping youth. Honorees included Robert Curry, Alan Smith, Gary Wilson, Ralph Turner, the late Fred Wilson, and his brother Sidney Smith, an attorney and Hyde Park resident since 1954.
“When I started this organization I knew I wanted it to be something that would last for years, but I wasn’t sure if that would happen,” explained Sidney Smith. “Since its founding, the YVI has helped well over 5,000 youths get off the street.”
He added that one obstacle many nonprofits face is funding.
“A lot of times money determines an organization’s longevity. So am I glad to see the YVI still around despite cutbacks in funding for all nonprofits? Absolutely,” Sidney Smith said.
In 1983, after the late Harold Washington was elected Chicago’s first, black mayor, Sidney Smith said the YVI expanded its reach beyond Hyde Park to citywide youths.
“We got a [city] contract to do employment training, youth leadership and we opened an office on 37th and Michigan [in Bronzeville],” said Sidney Smith. “The additional funding allowed us to expand our services and provide them with life skills and not just basketball.”
Kelly Greer was named Most Valuable Player at the alumni game on Saturday and thanked the founders for believing in youth at a time when they were overlooked.
“These were men who worked full-time jobs, had families and still found time to spend with us [youth] every week,” said Greer. “It showed me what ‘real’ men could do when they come together for a common cause. I will never forget the life lessons I learned from the YVI and I will forever be grateful to this organization.”