Alabama group wants to curb violence through sports: Ballers Against Bullets

By Alaina Bookman

Omari Hardwick will be speaking at the Ballers Against Bullets event in Anniston to encourage youth to put down the guns. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Actor and former athlete Omari Hardwick will join Angela Harris, a violence prevention advocate, at a community event at the Anniston Performing Arts Center on June 10.

The event, Ballers Against Bullets, is targeted for children and young adults in eastern Alabama. Gun violence, currently the leading cause of death among children in Alabama, was a concern stated by community members surveyed recently by the Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention.

The organization hopes the event will help counter narratives many children experience on social media which promote violence.

“We feel that if those celebrity athletes, if they make it lame for these young people to be out here killing each other, we think we’d have a real major impact because this is who these young people want to be like, anyway,” Seyram Selase, the executive director of Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention, said.

Hardwick, who had a role in the TV drama “Power,” once played for the University of Georgia football team as a defensive back. In a video, Hardwick said anti gun violence advocacy is important to him.

“It’s time to truly make a difference and save some lives. Not only are we tackling gun violence, but we’re also attempting to tackle substance misuse,” Hardwick said.

Harris is the mother of Aniah Blanchard, who was abducted and murdered in 2019. Blanchard was a former high school softball player.

Selase said he hopes the campaign will become a larger social movement to influence youth to say ‘put down the guns.’

Experts have found that carrying a weapon is associated with being more popular among adolescents and that, among youth, choosing to carry a weapon is a result of social pressure.

In a 2021 study, researchers found that when youth express support for nonviolence, it is less likely that their peers will experience violence and victimization.

Empowering athletes to promote nonviolence may have a similar effect on the youth who look up to them by reinforcing that harmful behaviors like bullying, fighting and using weapons are not cool.

“We’re hoping that our top influencers, our NBA players, NFL, can be the ones that can really make an impact on this issue because those players are coming from the very communities where gun violence is running rampant, and they ought to be the ones that speak out and say something,” Selase said.