Queen City looks like a forgotten neighborhood. Its Craftsman bungalows and Shotgun homes, built in the early 20th century, could use some repairs and a fresh coat of paint.
The historically African American neighborhood seems almost frozen in time compared to the rampant development in the northern parts of Dallas. That’s not to say it’s stagnant, though. On a recent Saturday, smokers were cooking in parking lots, vendors were set up on street corners, and Harrison Barnes was holding a basketball camp for neighborhood youth.
Inside the Exline Park Recreation Center, a warm gym with yellow cinder block walls and blue mats affixed underneath the backboards provided the backdrop for the camp. About 150 kids, ranging from eight to 18 years old, all wearing white t-shirts with the slogan “Ball Over Everything” across the back practiced basic basketball drills.
On one side of the gym, Barnes worked with some of the younger attendees as they practiced shooting drills. Campers had the opportunity to try and score on Barnes at times. With some of the shots, he feigned defense while others he casually swatted away. The kids erupted with laughter when their peers had their shots blocked.
The highlight for everyone in attendance was a game of knockout in which campers got to play against Barnes. There were a few moments where they almost got the better of the NBA player but Barnes prevailed in each round, even knocking off the camp coaches.
But the camp wasn’t just about basketball. It was also an opportunity for the kids to learn about leadership. In a recent essay in the Players’ Tribune, Barnes talked about wanting to really make a difference in his new Dallas home, so much so that he sought out local leaders to understand how best he could contribute. This camp was an opportunity to continue that effort.
“It’s important just to get up in person with these kids and just talk to them about real life issues,” Barnes said. “They see us on the TV screen or from far away but to really actually get down — for them to be able to ask us questions, to see that we’re real people just like them — and encourage them to be leaders.”
To help spread the message of leadership, Barnes was joined by dormer Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown — one of the people he sought out in those early conversations. Brown, a life-long Dallas resident, joined the Dallas Police Department in 1983 and served as Chief of Police from 2010-2016. His tenure as Chief was at times politically rocky but he rose to prominence nationally after his handling of the killings of five police officers in downtown Dallas in July 2016.
“My main thing is to convey a simple message about leadership is that leaders care about each other,” Brown said. “People usually won’t follow you unless they first know that you care about them. And so the first thing that I want to convey is that the number one principal is care about the neighborhood. Care about your friends. Care about your family. And then your behavior will reflect that caring.”
More than just leadership, though, the camp also intended to strengthen the relationship between the kids and the police.
“I think it’s important now, just with everything that’s going on, to partner with the police on this effort so that the police see these kids in a different light and the kids see the police in a different light,” Barnes said. “Most times when they usually interact and come across each other it’s not always in the best light. So, to be in a fun environment like this, it gives everyone a different perspective.”
The location of the camp also held special meaning for Chief Brown.
“It’s poignant; it’s a full circle moment for me,” Brown said. “Harrison chose this location but he probably had no idea my mother lives across the street. My father was baptized in the church on the corner here. This is home to me.”
Barnes’ basketball camp and the appearance by Chief Brown in South Dallas on that Saturday sent the message that Queen City isn’t forgotten.
“This is not just a basketball camp; this is showing people in this community that you care,” Brown said. “It’s heartfelt. I’m just happy to be a small part of Harrison’s efforts to connect the community to all of his on the court off the court plans and hopefully these kids will see that we all care about them.”