“The road is long, with many a winding turn; that leads us to who knows where, who knows where. But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”
By Clyde Hughes
CAMDEN â€“ August is several months away but planning for the marquee summer outdoor basketball event in all of South Jersey â€“ and arguably the Mid-Atlantic â€“ will be here before you know it: The 24th annual Larry Gaines Stop the Violence Basketball tournament.
At Bergen Square Park at the corner of Fourth and Washington streets, Camden becomes the center of the South Jersey basketball world for boys and girls youth teams, college players and even alumni. NBA players Dajuan Wagner and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have played in the intensive, competitive games.
But founder Larry Gaines had something bigger in mind in 1995. He thought about the negative image of Camden â€“ of mean streets and violence â€“ that had developed over the years and wanted to do something positive and something that sent a message that brought people together.
“When we do the tournament, all the kids bring their friends from out of town into the city, but the different sections of the city all come to this tournament,” said Reggie Gaines, who now runs the tournament in his brother’s memory and works as a photographer and substitute teacher.
“The chief of police, he called (the tournament) Switzerland because there is no violence at our tournament. And, you know, there are Bloods and Crips in the city of Camden, but they are not fighting or shooting or doing that at my basketball tournament.”
Larry Gaines died of a sudden illness on Jan. 9, 2000, never getting to see what the tournament and program has become today, but before his death, he was already grooming his younger brother for the role he plays today.
Reggie Gaines would take pictures for the tournament and his older brother would talk to him about life and to be prepared for something bigger. He said those life lessons has never left him and is why he is so passionate about keeping his brother’s dream alive.
“The tournament is the celebration of all the things that we do during the year,” Reggie Gaines said.
Looking back from tournament street-ball-in-the-park roots, Gaines said his brother would be pleased with the event that carries his name throughout South Jersey and beyond. He would even be happier for how it become a point of pride for the players and community.
“The kids that are playing are happy and we still are getting a message to them,” Gaines said about the tournament and organization’s non-violence theme. “We just got to keep going and keep building and keep changing the lives of the people in the community. And again, that’s our future. That’s our objective. That’s our vision and LG would be overwhelmed to see where we are right now.”
But Larry Gaines Stop the Violence has grown into more than a three-day marquee summer basketball tournament. Through Reggie Gaines efforts, the program gave away some 200 turkeys last year around Thanksgiving and conduct food and toy drives for the needy in Camden over the holiday season.
It has started helped youth golf team as one of his latest efforts.
“I got the Philadelphia PGA to donate this SNAG, Student New At Golf, equipment because I’m going to teach the kids how to play golf,” Gaines said. “And the team is going to be called The Diamonds in the Rough because of the fact that we don’t know who is our Tiger Woods.
“We don’t know who could be the … And because we, again, basketball was LG loved and we still use basketball to draw the folks in. It’s still our logo, but it’s more to the Larry Gaines than just basketball. It’s more to the Camden community than just basketball,” Gaines continued.
It can be an overwhelming task. Gaines said while he would not turn down genuine help, he’s on top of it.
“I’m not overwhelmed because I’m putting the work in,” Gaines said. “I know what it takes and everything, it’s work. I’m happy when the tournament is over, but then I’m only moving on to the next thing, so the work is still ongoing. I’m trying to, you know, because these different entities, all these people around, people keeping talking about all these entities and nobody’s collaborating, so I’m trying to do more collaboration.”
Not running the basketball tournament and community projects takes manpower and money. While Gaines hustles hard to get sponsors, he said he hopes people in the community will give more to the effort that’s meant to put them in a positive spotlight.
“You know on my Facebook page I have over 1,500 friends,” Gaines said. “I don’t know everybody, but people made friend requests or you know. They made friend requests because I don’t chase after friends.
“I ask for donations because of all the things we’re trying to do on Facebook and got $85. How do you have 1,500 friends and invited 1,500 people to reach out to 1,500 people and only get $85 in donations? If 500 people gave $10, that allows me to do something bigger and better in the community,” he added.
As the Larry Gaines Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament approaches its 24th annual event, you will be able to find Reggie Gaines at the corner of Fourth and Washington leading the cheers for the teams taking part â€“ and his older brother.
“People call me Larry most of the time,” Gaines said. “Some of these people never knew LG. They never knew him and they think I’m him. Some of these people have said to me, ‘How are you not LG, but doing the work you’re doing in the name of LG, Larry Gaines?’ One of my school buddies asked me, ‘How come you don’t call it Reggie Gaines Stop the Violence?’ They’re missing the message.
“LG’s been gone almost somebody’s whole lifetime, but serving the community is something that was instilled in us. But when I first started, my main objective was so that my brother’s name did not fade away.”
Not only has Larry Gaines’ name not gone away, but it has become a beacon and one of the positive shining lights for Camden.
All photos courtesy of Larry Gaines Stop the Violence.