Monarchs take on gun violence in area communities

Old Dominion ODU men's basketball
Posted at 9:53 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 21:57:29-05

NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- Old Dominion players are best known for their performances on the court, but the Monarchs do a lot of good work away from basketball as well. This year, they're tackling a deadly issue and hoping that their message can save lives in the process.

If you attended Saturday's game against Florida International, you may have noticed a public service announcement that ran during one of the timeouts. It featured many of the ODU players listing off names, followed by the phrase "think before you act." The names were people that the players know who have been impacted by gun violence.

"When Pastor Swann asked us how many of us have been affected by gun violence, everybody was able to raise their hand," sophomore guard Jaylin Hunter said.

Dr. Kevin Swann is a former Old Dominion basketball player who is now the pastor at Ivy Baptist Church in Newport News. He's also the Monarchs' character coach.

"It's kind of like a big brother, kind of like a chaplain also," Swann said of his role with the team. "Coaches focus on the game, I tend to help with life and helping them make good decisions off the court."

It was a conversation with Swann that led to the team's decision to speak out against gun violence.

"Before the season started I challenged them to really use their platform to speak on an issue that's personal to them," Swann recalled. "They all decided that they knew someone personally that had been impacted by gun violence."

"One thing that we thought was a problem in our community is gun violence, especially the African-American community," noted Hunter.

The Monarchs' efforts go far beyond a 90 second push on a video board. The players are out in local schools, hoping to connect with the youth to prevent them from making the wrong decisions.

"Us mentoring in schools, like Blair Middle School, I think that really just helped them just know that there are better ways and thinking before you act is what we're trying to push," Hunter said.

"It's important that they're role models, regardless of how many wins and losses, kids look up to them," added Swann. "They want to be where they are as players on a college campus."

The players know they won't get every gun out of the wrong hands, but by sharing their stories, serving as mentors and showing how sports can offer alternative path, the hope is that those growing up in rough situations will learn how to think before they act.

"Part of those decisions is saying no to peer pressure, saying no to what you may see in your community, saying no to others who may choose to use gun violence as an option," Swann said.

"Not everybody has the same privileges as us growing up and the same opportunities," added Hunter. "We know that and we get that and it is a lot of the luck of the draw, but we just want to be there as mentors and help for them."