Top NYPD officials teamed up with the five New York City district attorneys and federal officials Friday to announce a massive, long-term anti-violence program to open 100 gyms throughout the city on Saturday nights in an effort to give youngsters a place where they could play sports and learn other skills.
Dubbed “Saturday Night Lights,” the sports space will be open in all five boroughs beginning Saturday evening. The program is an expansion of an earlier, smaller initiative started a few years ago by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to bring high quality sports activities to youth in Harlem, officials said.
The program caught on and grew over the years and now with an influx of $5 million in city funding in 2022 municipal budget will be throughout the city. Children 11 to 18 will be able to enjoy an array of indoor sports, including basketball, soccer, volleyball, dance, martial arts and more, city officials said.
City officials reported earlier in the week that shootings were up by 38% and killings had increased by 8.5% through July 4 over the same date last year.
At news conference inside the gym of the Boys Club of New York located in East Harlem, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said the gyms would be open on Saturdays from 5 to 9 p.m. Shea said the gym openings were part of the department’s “Kids First” effort to engage youth in an effort to keep them safe and away from violence.
Asked if the program could be repeated statewide, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently said that the state needed to address a public health emergency of gun violence, Shea said he expected that to be the case.
“Everyone looks to New York City, what are you doing, what is working,” said Shea. “I fully expect people will take a look at this and say why aren’t we doing this, and not just in New York State, [but] across the country.”
“Sports gave me a different outlook on life, it allowed me to look outside my neighborhood,” said Bronx-born Ray Donovan, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration field office in New York.
The 100 gyms will include those in public schools, colleges and other neighborhood facilities. It will give the youngsters a chance not only to play sports but also take part in other activities to help them intellectually and to gain job skills, said Chauncey Parker, city deputy commissioner of community partnership.
The expanded program will be administered by the Department of Youth and Community Development and operated by various community organizations.
“This has always been important — but it has never been more important than at this moment,” Shea said of the program.