Martin Luther King’s dying dream was to see the future generation live in a world where diverse groups of people share ideas, compete on an even playing field, educate together, worship in unison and are tolerant of other ethnicities, races, genders and cultures.
Ian Thomas-Minor’s "Battle In The Bluffs" two-day hoops experience and life skills camp, held annually in Martha’s Vineyard, an affluent island summer colony located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, captures the essence of Dr. King's dream.
Planting The Seeds
The tournament started in 2012. Minor and his partner and business mentor Arthur Andrews came up with an idea to take students to Martha’s Vineyard for sports and life lessons.
“We were just chopping it up and talking about the first time we met,” said Minor, who has worked in New York City schools and now runs his own youth non-profit called Connective.
“It was Arthur’s first summer on the Vineyard and he was brought there by some of my family members, and one of the things that really brought us together was the basketball tournament there. It wasn’t "Battle In The Bluffs," but they had a tournament with teams from Boston, and then Arthur was on a team and I was playing on the Martha’s Vineyard team because I was living in The Vineyard at that time.”
Minor says that they reminisced about how dope that moment in time was and figured they should rekindle the flavor.
“From that convo the thought grew legs,” Minor told The Shadow League, “and we were like, 'Let's really make this happen.'”
“I didn’t want to do a typical tournament. That’s why we added the camp and clinic aspect. That’s my thing, providing good entertainment, but more importantly provide a platform for education and empowerment any time I can. That's pretty much how the 'Battle In The Bluffs' came to fruition.”
The two city kids who had honed, developed and strengthened their relationship in the culturally-enhancing community of Martha’s Vineyard are now men and partners in creating the same experience for as many youngsters as possible.
Fast forward to summer 2016 and Minor had his fifth and most successful "Battle In The Bluffs" camp and clinic from June 29-July 3. This year BITB5 added a barbecue, fashion show and bowling outing to raise money and awareness. It has come a long way from its humble beginnings and Minor has not only provided life lessons for kids, but with the help of Andrews, he’s expanded his personal horizons.
“I use The Vineyard to help others redefine their lives and what they view as a success or successful," Minor told TSL.
“I learned a lot from Arthur in terms of business savvy,” Minor said. “I was very naive in the beginning because I thought that because our clinic was aimed at empowering youth, educating them through basketball and training them on how to be functional adults, that everyone would rally behind us and support us and the money would come rolling in to get this mission completed.
“I had to learn that even though you are doing something good, there is still a marketing approach to letting people know that good product is out there if you want them to invest. It was a grind that first year. I learned a lot and I'm still learning how to build a brand. I understand now that in the first five years of a business you are going to take a loss to get your vision up and running.”
Enriching Lives Through Hoops
Minor’s vision is definitely viable and growing. The basketball instruction is high level, but the enrichment component is what elevates the camp in terms of what it offers the participants ages 4-13.
“We create synergy with other not-for-profits to bring them to The Vineyard because it provides a platform to connect with people you may never connect with in your life," said Minor. "Not just for the kids from lesser means but also for the kids who are financially great. It allows them to meet people whom they may have had stigmas or preconceived notions about and it humanizes these kids.”
Minor says The Vineyard allowed him to get into the circle of what he refers to as “The Black Elite.”
“Parents who have a certain kind of financial background can do the things for their kids to empower them and teach them in a certain way at a young age, which leads to financial success later on in life as adults,” Minor told TSL back in late June, right before the latest Battle In The Bluff popped off.
“These jewels for success and the information that comes with it is guarded,” Minor continued.
“It’s not necessarily shared with everybody, so The Vineyard allowed me to be around those kids from higher means and it taught both of us that the energy a person exudes is more important than anything they have.”
Legacy of Elite Blacks
Minor says his grandfather, Lloyd Thomas, was one of the first black pediatricians in Brooklyn. He had his own practice in the basement of a Brownstone he owned. He was a pioneer and worked very hard to eventually afford a house on The Vineyard. There, Thomas was able to connect with other affluent African-Americans.
(Photo Credit: theclio.com)
According to yahoo.com, "the first African-Americans on Martha's Vineyard were indentured servants, runaway slaves, and whalers. They came for the oil. 'You have to understand,' says Skip Finley, a columnist for the Vineyard Gazette, New Bedford, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard were pretty much the Middle East in those days."
"But by the mid–19th century whale oil was being displaced by more easily obtainable energy sources, and the island was reborn as a resort. A group of Methodists built a tabernacle in Wesleyan Grove for open air revivals, and rows of gingerbread cottages sprang up around it. The residential development was called Cottage City until it was reincorporated as Oak Bluffs, in 1907.
In the 1920's and '30s, it became a vacation spot for middle-class and upper-class black folks from Boston. Then, in the 1950s, the affluent black New Yorkers, the D.C. crowd, and Philadelphia folks started coming up, and it's just exploded ever since then.
Minor’s grandfather was somebody he modeled himself after,“ just as far as being comfortable in my own skin,“ Minor told TSL. “He was wearing argyle socks when nobody else was. He had his own swag and that was somebody I looked up to, not just because he was a doctor but by the way he provided for other people... just having that house and allowing the family to come there and have free reign.”
The Vineyard's Saving Grace
That house enabled Ian’s mom to bring him to the Vineyard and spend entire summers there.
While the summers in The Vineyard opened up Ian's world to a different way of life, when he returned home to the concrete jungles of NYC, he still struggled to shed the warts that plague inner-city kids and the demons that haunt their everyday lives.
When the 33-year-old Ian was in his teens, his mother was a corrections officer at Rikers Island, which took a toll on her mentally and spiritually and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. His mother and father eventually separated.
“Actually, we were living in Brooklyn with him,” Minor said, “and he kicked us out so we moved to Queens. At the time, I had two little sisters as well so I was thrust into the responsibility of caretaker and father figure without really knowing how.”
It was the early to mid-'90s and the streets of New York were one big magnet for crime and conflict. During this time, Minor says he struggled adjusting to life without his pops, which led to multiple encounters with the law, one which cost him an opportunity to play college basketball in California.
“I came from a place that was troubling and stressful,” Minor said. “When my parents broke up it hit me hard. I didn't know how to process it and started getting in lot of trouble."
During the middle of Ian’s sophomore year, his mom packed up the family’s Ford Bronco and said, “We're leaving and moving to the Vineyard.”
(Photo of African-American teen fishing on the Vineyard in the 70s)
Ian says his mom knew that moving to The Vineyard would help her son decompress, be a better person and build a rapport with people outside of his comfort zone.
“We moved there and I went from being the majority to the minority,” Minor recalls. “I was the only black kid in a school of more than 1,500 kids.”
Minor says, during those long, lonely winters he was forced to have conversations with kids who didn't look like him. He played basketball for two years on The Vineyard during the winters.
It truly was an experience that altered his life and revived his connection with the winning tradition established by his grandfather decades ago.
The Jump Off
Minor returned to NYC in 2005 and said he "...was given a second chance at getting my degree and also playing basketball at the college level at Molloy College.” Minor is currently an assistant coach at the D-II school that he graduated from in 2010.
(Ian Thomas Minor on the sidelines at the Rutgers Athletic Center in November)
"I also was having a daughter and still working two or three jobs and it was crazy,” he said.
Minor worked as a Laborer for Local 79 A, and became a personal trainer and mentor at an after-school program called Educational Alliance.
He made his first venture into coaching in 2011, taking over a JV squad at School of the Future and leading them to a Manhattan borough championship in his second season. At that point, Minor was able to positively reflect on his journey and the 1st "Battle In The Bluffs" was soon born.
(Photo Credit: BITB)
“The first year, it was a grueling one day tournament with four teams and by the third year we played outside under the lights and it was super packed,” Minor reflected. “So instead of having four teams we decided that we could have just one feature game under the lights...that game was the main attraction for The Vineyard anyway, so why not garner that energy into the camps and clinics. So we eventually scrapped the four-team program. And it continues to evolve.”
Over the years Minor has taken less of a role as far as being hands on with the kids and running the camp. He says he was so consumed with those tedious aspects that the managerial execution of the camp suffered.
“I stepped back to start fine-tuning the little things so the event could be 10 times what I imagined in terms of planning and raising money and awareness and how we raise money using social media outlets to make sure that people can help and donate and communicate what we do... and provide our legal authenticity in an easier fashion,” Minor told TSL.
"It was smoother since I named Kris Davis as lead trainer and had him take over the running of the camp. He’s a known ball player in NYC who has a mental approach to the game and a great spirit. It's not just about basketball."
Davis is someone whose understanding of the physical and spiritual connection between life and basketball meshes well with Thomas’ overall vision for the camp. Davis’ focus is on “Mind, Body and Soul.”
Beyond The Bluffs And The Bounce
Minor said that every year BITB wants to champion for another campaign that needs to be empowered. This year it was freenana.org, shedding light on elderly care in America.
“It really celebrates the memory of my godbrother's grandmother who made history in 1959 by becoming the first African – American registered nurse to graduate from Hartford Hospital School of Nursing," Minor explained.
"She was just a trailblazer who gave a lot of her time and energy to healthcare and giving back. We were trying to raise money for her care, so that the government wouldn't take her house as she accrued charges in the hospital. She passed away on September 28th of 2016, but her spirit lives on."
The same selfless spirit that drives the all-encompassing nature of "Battle In The Bluffs."
(Photo Credit: BITB)
“I hope to eventually make this weekly and bring 30 to 50 kids to participate in our basketball and educational offerings and experience a unique life on The Vineyard,” Minor enthusiastically tells The Shadow League. “One they wouldn't be able to experience in Brooklyn or Queens or New Bedford, Massachusetts or wherever we bring these kids from. It gives them great perspective.”
“So five years down the line, I want us to be bringing in 500 kids a year per summer and making them better people and less selfish and more selfless and realizing it takes way more energy to be negative than it does to empower somebody. That's what's missing in most school systems these days. That’s the mission.”