JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION: Wright invites OPD to play in holiday basketball tournament

For this year’s Juneteenth celebrations, Danny R. Wright decided to do his part in bridging the gap between police and civilians through his basketball tournament.

A look through the 40th Annual Danny R. Wright Tournament’s bracket showed multiple youth and adult teams ready to showcase their skills at the Wilkerson and Woodson Boys and Girls Clubs.

Among the adults was a squad made up of Odessa Police Department officers.

By inviting the police department, Wright wanted to provide a positive environment and set up stronger human interactions between residents and officers in the future.

“Those are things that we as leaders of the community have a responsibility to do,” Wright said. “These are little things but it’s kind of like putting a puzzle together, you can’t get the big picture until you put the first two together.”

Although some police officers individually participated in previous tournaments, the police department had never been invited out as a whole.

Wright was glad to see chief Mike Gerke and officer Tommy Jones accept an invite for the department to partake in the holiday celebrations.

This year’s basketball tournament opened Friday evening with some games between youth teams before the Odessa Police Department played against The Horsemen.

Wright believed the young children would benefit from seeing the interactions between police and some of the athletes they have grown up around.

“I think they start to see the Boys and Girls Club as a place of unity,” he said. “That type of thing makes everyone a little more comfortable and a little more at ease.”

Permian graduate and current UTPB wide receiver Kobe Robinson represented The Horsemen when they played against the police department’s team.

Robinson felt the toll of events in 2020, like the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

He said getting to interact with the Odessa Police Department in a celebratory setting shows that there is unity with the city’s residents.

“We are one,” Robinson said. “Being able to come together and have this tournament, it was fun.”

It wasn’t too long ago that Robinson was like the young children watching his games in the stands.

Getting to be that role model for the younger generation meant a lot to the Odessa native.

In the past, only adults were eligible to play in the Juneteenth tournament.

Wright wanted to make sure the city’s youth would feel embraced at this year’s competition.

Their portion of the tournament concluded early Saturday and after they were finished with their games, Wright encouraged them to check out the Black Cultural Council of Odessa’s speaker panel at Blackshear Elementary.

He wants to lean more toward uplifting the youth.

When police recruit Joel Contreras found out the department was playing in the weekend tournament, he quickly took up the offer.

His first reason for joining was his love of basketball and his second was to connect with the community.

“We like to have fun, we’ll play a game of basketball and try to get close with everybody,” Contreras said. “It’s a really good experience, I’m really glad that we’re able to come out here, just have fun with everybody and play some ball.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, giving it the same status as days like Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Wright believes the holiday should have been recognized a long time ago and some places like Texas are still behind when it comes to equality.

“I’m glad it’s always been a holiday to me, I’ve celebrated ever since I was a little boy,” he said. “But Texas has a different kind of personality.”

Although he has seen the country take some steps in the right direction, Wright knows there is still work to be done especially when it comes to the youth.

“What we have to do, it’s kind of like teachers,” Wright said. “If you can reach them, you can teach them.”

>>Follow Chris Amaya on Twitter at @OA_CAmaya