Caleb Hall (pictured below to the left), a student and basketball player for the JCM Cougars, won the Lane College Slam Dunk Contest at the Oman Arena Tuesday during a break between the sixteen different high schools battling in out in Area Relief Ministries’ third annual HUB Classic Basketball Tournament. JCM joined teams from North Side, Liberty, Trinity, and Madison from Jackson. Add in Crockett, Haywood, and Gibson County teams together with Melrose, Westwood, and Fairley from Memphis, and you have twenty-four games over three days right here in Jackson. The event is hosted by (and proceeds go to) Area Relief Ministries and its community development efforts through The HUB Club in particular.
While Caleb’s slam dunk was definitely something to see, there’s a great deal else coming together here at the Oman that’s something to see as well. It’s no secret that JCM is set to close at the end of this academic year, and student concern has been overheard in the concession stand line. Police officers providing security for the tournament continue to check their scanners while also chatting with coaches and families in the round concrete hallway echoing the cheers from the games inside. ARM staff, board members past and present, and volunteers from churches and groups across the city bustle in the hospitality room, admission desk, and everywhere in between.
What’s more to see, however, is the people who live, work, entertain, and operate in almost completely different parts of this community most of the year finding themselves talking to each other. While their teams compete against each other a few yards away on the hardwood-tiled floor, neighbors actually meet each other and realize that they aren’t so different from one another.
At ARM this is what we call a “sign of the kingdom,” this kind of conversation happening against the zeitgeist that insists we quickly fear, label, and separate ourselves from anyone we don’t know for our own safety and that of our children. But somehow, before and after fans from all the teams cheered to their feet as Caleb Hall made his dramatic slam dunk, people who don’t know each other have been noticing that this kind of coming together is actually the only thing that keeps our city from falling apart.
ARM doesn’t have the luxury to ignore the real, pressing problems experienced by people across this city every day, or to ignore the way our separateness casts its dark shadow into them. We see our separateness in people who work day and night only to barely pay their bills. We see the results of our separateness in college-educated men who find themselves homeless after decades of employment. We see the results of our separateness not just in the individual children who cannot read but in the entire neighborhoods of children who cannot read—and who often can’t sleep because of the noises of violence heard outside their front doors.
ARM does, however, see the kind of togetherness that the HUB Classic reminds us of all the time in our work. Retired school teachers volunteer alongside parents and college students to transform a neighborhood, reminding us of the power of showing up for each other. Churches of all kinds and colors work together to provide shelter and meals around their own tables with those who are homeless, reminding us of the power of knowing each other. We receive donations from those with a little extra, which transform into keeping a family’s lights on after two days of illness throwing off a tightrope budget, reminding us of the power of moving toward each other.
So, yes, the Gibson County Lady Pioneers beat out Trinity Christian’s Lady Lions in the final seconds of the semifinals, putting them on the court in the championship game against Liberty’s Lady Crusaders tonight. The Westwood Longhorns and North Side Indians are set to battle each other for the championship after beating the Trinity Lions and Crockett County Cavaliers in a down-to-the-wire nail biter in Tuesday evening’s semifinals. It’s been great basketball, tempting barbecue, inventive cheerleading (shoutout to North Side’s cheerleaders), and hopeful half-court shots.
But watching a community physically come together is ultimately the heart of ARM’s mission. Homelessness and illiteracy and violence and poverty are only alleviated and hope only fostered with the joint efforts of many. The HUB Classic not only helps fund the numerous services ARM provides every day, but it actually offers signs of the kingdom here and now. Sport fan or not, the HUB Classic (and Caleb Hall’s slam dunk) is a thing to be seen and celebrated. Together.
The final championship games happen tonight, December 30, at the Oman Arena. Liberty and Gibson County girls will compete for the title at 6:05 P.M., followed by the guys from North Side and Westwood at 8:15 P.M. Follow #hubclassic and @arearelief on Facebook, Twitter, and Periscope for live coverage, or visit the Area Relief Ministries website for brackets and schedule.
Donald Jordan is a Jackson native with a traveler’s spirit. He is a therapist, professor of social work, and expert at inviting himself to your home for dinner and drinks.
Photography by Earnest Mitchell.