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This article was published 2/5/2015 (2176 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Lenard Monkman is preparing for the biggest basketball game the North End has ever seen.
The volunteer is organizing the May 31 event at Ralph Brown Community Centre and expects 200 kids in the neighbourhood to take part.
"I grew up in the heart of the North End and went through everything you see in the media -- poverty, addiction, gangs and violence -- everything that comes with being an urban indigenous male," said Monkman.
"The one thing that kept me out of trouble is basketball."
On Friday night, at the weekly gathering at the Bell Tower on Selkirk Avenue, he put out a call for 100 basketballs, shoes and shorts for kids and volunteers to help them play in the May 31 event and all summer long in the North End.
The tournament aims to be a springboard for a safer summer, said Monkman.
The idea is to get as many kids as possible playing basketball, he said.
It has the backing of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, Basketball Manitoba, Rhythm 104.7 FM and the Winnipeg police, who will be playing against the Neechi Commons All-stars at the family fun day, said Monkman.
The 29-year-old never imagined he'd be volunteering to help his community.
"I went from being a bad kid to playing basketball through my teenage years to 19 and 20 when I started getting into trouble again," said Monkman. "I was selling drugs and facing some pretty serious charges."
A turning point came when he faced losing his freedom.
"I was about to get sentenced and I got a job," he said, adding he went to work installing flooring and spent weekends drinking.
"To go from selling drugs and that lifestyle towards getting up and going to work every day was a hard transition for me -- to go from having lots of money to not having hardly any."
"I went home to my (First Nation community) in December and talked to my uncle about what I need to do to change my life and have more control."
The talk helped. "I haven't woken up with a hangover this year."
He read the book Indians Wear Red, which opened his eyes to the effects of colonialism and suggested indigenous males "need to step up and reclaim our communities," said Monkman.
He took that to heart.
Every week for three hours, and one Saturday a month, he goes to Next Up. "It's a leadership development program with a social-justice bent," said Monkman. There, he's meeting people from all over the city and those already in leadership roles.
"This is me stepping out of my comfort zone," Monkman admitted. "I feel kind of awkward being there: 'This is where I'm from and this is the kind of shit I've done,' " while others in the program have master's degrees, he said.
"I'm there, hopefully, to make change in my community," said Monkman, who turns 30 next month.
"Where I'm at in my life is a lot more positive," he said.
"I get up and go to work everyday, I plug Aboriginal Youth Opportunities and do whatever it takes to better the indigenous community by being proactive."
To volunteer or donate to the 100 Basketballs Challenge, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information see ayomovement.com/100-basketballs.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.