BlackTop Youth Program Loses Gym Space | Richmond Free Press
A private South Side youth program that won high praise and a $ 500,000 municipal grant for its virtual school operation that served over 80 students per day during the 2020-21 school year was evicted from his home in a church gymnasium and struggles to find a new location for his operations.
The BlackTop Kings and Queens Youth Sports Academy and Virtual Learning Center lost their space on September 3 as they prepared to offer virtual classes again, according to Arthur E. “Manny” Harris Jr., founder and director of the program. .
For the past seven years, BlackTop has been based at 318 N. 19th St. in the campus gymnasium of the United Nations Church, which purchased the campus three years ago from the financially troubled Richmond Christian Center (RCC). .
“We were about to open our virtual academy for the New Year,” Mr. Harris said, “but then we were closed.”
The church confirmed that Mr. Harris was no longer allowed to use the gymnasium.
Bishop Orrin K. Pullings, founding pastor of the United Nations, said the decision to end Mr. Harris’s use of the property ended a three-year dispute between Mr. Harris and the church that began shortly after the installation of the United Nations.
However, Bishop Pullings said the church plans to renovate the building and open its own youth community center in the space.
Meanwhile, Mr Harris, who lost his candidacy on Sept. 14 for a court order to temporarily restore his program, said he was now looking for a new location to resume the virtual school and sports academy. extracurricular.
He said one option would be to use the space at the Franklin Military Academy.
Owner of an irrigation business, Harris started the Low Income Youth After School Sports Program in 2012 in honor of his late mother.
Two years later he moved the program to the closed gymnasium on RCC property and has been there ever since.
He started the program to provide a low cost option for child care through a weekday and weekend youth basketball program.
After the pandemic, he added the virtual academy to help low-income children who struggled to take computer lessons at home after schools closed. He said he did not charge parents for sending their children to the virtual school.
City Councilor Stephanie A. Lynch was one of the cheerleaders in the program. She recommended the BlackTop virtual school to voters in the 5th arrondissement who were struggling to home school their children.
The program has been selected as a recipient of a city grant to support the virtual academy. The city allocated a share of the federal CARES Act funding to BlackTop and other community providers to expand child care and daytime education services after Richmond public schools agreed to do so. allow non-profit organizations like the YMCA to offer virtual schooling to a few hundred children in five buildings.
Bishop Pullings said the church supports youth programs, but is concerned about Mr Harris’ repeated disregard of the rules, especially regarding subletting space to others.
To help fund his youth operation, Mr Harris said he had organized various activities, including birthday parties, Latin basketball tournaments and other events, and had sublet the space to others.
However, Bishop Pullings said Mr. Harris often did not get the required permission from the church before subletting. “He has been warned over and over again,” the bishop said. “We cannot have just any type of event on church property. He needed permission from our board of directors to sublet.
Things came to a head in June after Mr Harris confirmed he had cleared a promoter of a risky business dubbed “Buns and Basketball”. The paid event involved scantily clad women playing basketball.
Mr Harris said he informed Ujima Properties, the company that manages the church’s leased space, of the event. However, Bishop Pullings said Ujima was not authorized to approve such a sublet. He said he and other church elders had to provide such approval. He said Mr. Harris had not requested such authorization.
Bishop Pullings said he discovered it when he came to campus the night of the affair with several members of his family and was confronted by an armed security guard who did not tell him. hadn’t let in until he called the Richmond Police.
In the process, Bishop Pullings said Mr Harris was told the church was planning to repossess the gymnasium.
After Mr Harris protested that his forced departure would disrupt his summer youth program, Bishop Pullings said Mr Harris was allowed to continue operating until August.
Mr. Harris was, however, informed that use of the gymnasium by his program would end on September 3, according to a letter sent to him. Mr. Harris was on a monthly lease. The church only had to provide 30 days’ notice to end the arrangement with him.
Bishop Pullings said the church went to Richmond General District Court in August for an order allowing the time limit to be enforced, then had the locks changed when Mr Harris did not move the BlackTop’s equipment and other assets from space.
Bishop Pullings said the church was more than willing to set times and dates with Mr. Harris to retrieve the BackTop property.
The bishop said Mr. Harris, despite the disagreement, showed the importance of youth programs in the gymnasium.
“We thought about what kind of youth program we should be offering,” Bishop
says Prints. “We have completely redesigned this space. Our plan is to create a place that introduces young people to career engines such as sports technology, engineering, the arts and music. Our goal is to create a comprehensive youth center that offers more than basketball.