FLINT, Michigan -- In August, Sgt. Scott Watson of the City of Flint Police Department, shared his story with The Daily, a podcast by The New York Times. Watson discussed being a Black police officer in a moment when the country has had Black Lives Matter rallies and protests nationwide this summer. He also talked about his upbringing in Flint, including one specific anecdote about how basketball helped save his life.
“Like some kids had teddy bears and stuff, I didn’t have any of that,” Watson told The Daily. “I had a basketball. Basketball was my best friend.”
One of the listeners of that episode was Ann-Marie Blaney. Blaney is part of a professional distance running team based in Rochester Hills, Michigan. She moved to Michigan from Florida three years ago, has participated in the Crim Festival of Races, and has seen the Netflix series Flinttown (which Watson was also featured on), but has little experience with the city beyond that. Watson’s story, though, inspired her.
“I remember loving Scott Watson in the documentary,” Blaney said. “And then when I hard him share his story on the podcast, when he said he had a basketball and that made the biggest difference to him, I wanted to do something to help.”
Blaney’s birthday was in early September, and she decided to ask friends and family to donate to a GoFundMe campaign called The Flint Basketball Project rather than receiving gifts. The goal of the campaign was to raise $1,000 and use the proceeds to purchase basketballs to donate to kids in Flint.
“Flint may not be where I’m from, but it’s always had a little piece of me,” Blaney said. “I’ve never done something like this, but I just created this little project to see how much of a difference I could make.”
She's already eclipsed the $1,000 goal, raising $1,205. The campaign will be open and accepting donations through the end of September. Then, Blaney will purchase basketballs and work with a local nonprofit or groups of nonprofits to distribute them in the city.
As a competitive athlete herself, Blaney is hoping the gesture of providing kids with basketballs can help spark a bigger dream.
“I was an athlete at the University of Central Florida,” she said. “In my sport, a pair of running shoes can go so far for someone, so I thought a basketball could too. If I could ever help a child get a scholarship someday or start that belief that they could by giving them a basketball, that’s what my hope for the project would be.”