Members of the FBI, SWAT team, evidence response and bomb detection squad descended on the Mander Playground at 33rd and Diamond streets in North Philadelphia last month, with shields, armored vehicles and other tactical equipment.
However, this wasn’t a crime scene, but rather a community outreach effort hosted by Derrick Ford, founder of the Strawberry Mansion All-Star baseball league.
Ford, a community organizer and athletic director of the Strawberry Mansion Athletic Association, began hosting the event six years ago as one of his efforts to combat growing crime in the community and to help improve relationships between residents of the area and law enforcement.
“We started this game six years ago, and it’s all about killing the stigma about how inner city kids view law enforcement,” Ford said. “It’s okay to be a police officer; it’s okay to be an FBI agent or a fireman, anybody that puts on a uniform.”
During the All-Star game, coaches from the FBI played the coaches of the Strawberry Mansion All-Star baseball league.
According to Ford, the series is an even 2-2 and Ford himself pitched last year’s winning game against the FBI which tied the series.
“It’s a fun game and its all about food, fun and festivities,” Ford said.
Although it is all about the fun, educating children and reducing the stigma about law enforcement in the community, Ford said the team practices hard throughout the year for the event.
“Our motto is: ‘Through it all, let’s play ball!’” Ford said.
But baseball isn’t the only thing that the youth of the league do. Each child who participates in the league is required to attend tutorial classes.
“One of the things that I think is different about what we do is that all of our kids have to attend 120 hours of tutoring which consists of math, English and science,” Ford said.
“This isn’t just about playing the wonderful game of baseball, but it is about education, family values and respect. You don’t find a league in Philadelphia where you pay $10, get a uniform and all of the academic components. That sets us apart from everyone else in the city.”
So where do the league get its funds to provide such services? They raise them themselves.
“We do our fundraising in terms of sustainability,” Ford said. “We don’t rely on any funding from anywhere else so we just do what we do.”
According to Ford, the group has no sponsors but combine efforts with others such as the FBI, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, neighboring recreation centers and the Phillies baseball team, which donated uniforms for the children.
“You see diverse people participating and assisting in what we are doing out here,” Ford said.
FBI community outreach specialist, Natosha Warner, has participated in this event since its inception 6 years ago.
“Derrick [Ford] and I came together about six years ago as a result of this whole stop snitching epidemic, and we coordinated some events with the ‘step up, speak up’ campaign,” she said.
Warner added she and Ford wanted to do something other than the usual activities such as campaigns, rallies and vigils.
“We wanted to bring our message to the streets and so we decided to bring our message to the Mander Playground so that we could show the children all that we do and all that we are about,” she said.