By Ariele Vaccaro
It has been almost thirty years since Darryl Banks began teaching basketball skills and life lessons to Milwaukee boys and girls at his yearly camp. To him, though, it certainly hasn’t felt that long.
“I’m smiling right now because my job is so easy,” said the co-founder of the Milwaukee nonprofit, 29th Street Inc. — a nonprofit that aims to give Milwaukee youth between the ages of eight and 12 valuable life skills and a sense of professionalism.
Every summer since 1986, 29th Street holds a one-weekend long, summer program, during which some 45 boys and girls show up to North Division High School to learn how to shoot hoops, be a team player, and become a professional, successful individual.
Since 2007, Banks has worked alongside 29th Street co-founder and current President Calvin Rayford.
The two met when Rayford was only 14-years-old. As a Washington High School student and basketball team point guard, Rayford would go on to bring his team a state title.
He would be named Wisconsin Mr. Basketball in 1991 and become the only Milwaukee player to ever gain the prestigious title of McDonald’s All-American. Now, he’s working to inspire youth in much the same way that Banks tried to inspire him as a child.
Like Rayford, some of the youth Banks met in the eighties at his first basketball camps are now adults in their thirties and forties. They haven’t forgotten about what Banks taught them.
Many, like former San Antonio Spurs point guard Mike Wilks, who sustained a successful professional basketball career after acquiring a bachelor’s degree in economics, have come back, year after year, to help put on the basketball camp.
“They all come back. It’s just not hard at all,” said Banks.
Wilks, a graduate of Rufus King High School, attended 29th Street’s camp as an 8-year-old boy. Now, he’s 36.
This past weekend, the Oklahoma City Thunder scout flew in to work with the latest generation of boys and girls taking part in the camp.
Banks is thrilled to have friends like Wilks, who return each year to teach the children that attend his camp.
Having professionals around to encourage kids shows them that there’s no limit to what they can do with a little guidance, a strong work ethic, and professionalism.
“He lets them know, it’s more than basketball,” said Banks.
“He’s a big part of what we do, and he gives me a lot of advice.”
This year, Banks will watch another, younger generation of graduates from his camp move on to college.
Alethia Tilford, a Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School graduate and recently named U.S. Presidential Scholar, will be moving on to Howard University in Washington D.C. this fall.
Banks said he keeps in close contact with her and a number of other graduates of his camp throughout their high school and college careers, and beyond.
“We care about our youth.”
He’s seen students build lasting friendships with each other after the camp, as well.
Even after they leave, youth can return to their memories, friends, and to the camp itself to help out. According to Banks, it’s a positive environment that all graduates are welcome to come back to.
“That’s why we call it ‘the house’,” said Banks.
Since its inception, 29th Street has taught children communication skills, the importance of education, and how to be a team player without government funding.
Rather, it’s the help of local business owners and other sponsors that keeps 29th Street up and running.
“No one gets a paycheck,” Banks said.
Ugo Nwagbaraocha, owner of Diamond Discs International, has been donating to 29th Street for years.
He was a guest speaker at the camp this past weekend.
According to Banks, this year’s camp went flawlessly.
Last Friday and Saturday, participants got up bright and early.
At 8:30 a.m., they ate a continental breakfast to fuel their activities for the day.
They listened to guest speakers Nwagbaraoacha and local spoken word artist Muhibb Dyer.
Next, they enjoyed lunch and played games. Upon completing the camp, they each received a bookbag full of supplies for the upcoming school year. Banks says some 1,500 kids have graduated from the camp so far.
Basketball is hardly the sole focus of 29th Street’s camp, however.
Banks insists academics are a major facet of his camp, as well.
That’s why 29th Street hands out a college scholarship to a dedicated, promising student each year. It was Tilford who received it this year, in the amount of $1,500.
Over the years, 29th Street has given out some $30,000 in scholarships.
The organization also gives out one Community Involvement Award. This year, Salvation Army Communications Director Faithe Colas won.
She, her husband Eric Von, a well-known Milwaukee radio personality, and her grandson all attended the camp’s Sunday awards ceremony.
Banks has hardly taken a breath since the camp’s closing this weekend. He’s already thinking of what to do for next year’s basketball program, which will be its 30th anniversary.
He plans to invite everyone back — participants, speakers, sponsors, scholarship recipients — to celebrate thirty years of the camp.
But he’ll do so holding on tight to the same tenet that has made the camp such a success throughout the years.
“It’s more than basketball. It’s bigger than that.” Darryl Banks spoke with Eric Von on The Eric Von Show last week.
The show airs Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on WNOV 860 AM The Voice. Listen to WNOV on TUNE IN on your mobile device or online at WNOV860.com.