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Tommy McBrayer creates community through basketball to help prevent gun violence

Minneapolis man teaching kids about gun violence through basketball
Minneapolis man teaching kids about gun violence through basketball 03:56

MINNEAPOLIS — A man who knows first-hand the impact of gun violence is now using that knowledge to help others. Tommy McBrayer started "Don't Shoot Guns, Shoot Hoops." The goal of his nonprofit is somewhat self-explanatory, but basketball is just one part of what these young men are learning.

On the court, teenagers from around the metro come together. They all have different backgrounds but they have more than basketball in common — McBrayer brought them together.

"Man, the goal is like to prevent gun violence in one community at a time," McBrayer said.

He knows from experience.

"I was selling weed just to pay my rent. Had a drug deal go bad. I ended up tied up, shot, left for dead in the hallway of a duplex at 20 years old. Right there. That was the first time that it was a wake-up call. You know, either you want to go down that route still or you're wanting to change your life," McBrayer said.

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He survived and says he straightened out his life. Still, 10 years later, he was shot again. This time by someone he considered family.

"Conversation going the wrong way, and I end up getting sacked two times in my stomach just in July of 2019," McBrayer said.

He worked on his own healing — physical, mental and emotional — and fully looked at the community around him.

"Seeing a lot of my friends die from gun violence, going to jail from gun violence, just felt like I needed to do something about it," McBrayer said.

He took his shot and started "Don't Shoot Guns, Shoot Hoops."

"There's too many people just shying away from the issue. You know, they're not being bold about saying stop the gun violence. So I want to be bold. I want to be bold, there's no hidden agenda," McBrayer said.

The nonprofit reaches out to schools to find students who can benefit from being part of the program.

Some have experienced the cost of gunfire in their own lives. 

"I came to this program because I lost my brother and stuff to keep my mind off of that, the situation," Jontavion Hudson said.

Hudson's brother, Johntae, was gunned down at Mall of America in 2022. He says being here helps with the pain.

"Interact with more people, talk about things, just have fun at the camp," Hudson said.

Terrence Herron calls basketball his outlet 

"It's kind of like therapy almost," Herron said.

He says he's learning from the coaches after also losing his brother to gun violence.

COST OF GUNFIRE: A personal look at the emotional and physical impact of gun violence

"They came back from crazy situations that I wouldn't think would be possible. Like for example, getting shot, losing family members and, like, not retaliating. And the fact that they push that aside and love it up themselves from that situation. It's really inspiring," Herron said.

McBrayer says the goal is to lead with love, to help these young men make positive choices for better outcomes.

"Just staying busy, not like indulging in gun violence in general. Just making sure I'm just doing something with my life in general," Marlon Smith said.

They intertwine messages of non-violence, discipline, compassion and work ethic into the game.

"If you become a better leader, then you're a better leader in household. You're a better leader with your friends, you're a better leader in school. If you get a job, you're a better leader after at the workplace. So that's where we're trying to start is leadership quality that they probably didn't think they had in them," McBrayer said.

This camp came at no charge to the students. Most of the funding for the charity comes from the state Office of Justice Programs. 

They also host midnight basketball on select Fridays. Click here for registration and to learn more.

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