For somebody whose father is a favorite son in France, who exudes the outgoing persona of a typical native New Yorker and by virtue of winning back-to-back college national championships, is forever beloved in Florida, Joakim Noah sure seems like a Chicagoan.
The Bulls’ All-Star center’s pride for the city is no secret on the court, but off the court, Noah has immersed himself in the city’s social issues. His Noah’s Arc Foundation has quietly affected Chicago’s youth through his mother, artist Cecilia Rodhe’s art programs, as well as the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year using his own vocation, basketball, as a tool to help stem the tide of violence throughout the city.
Noah premiered an anti-violence public-service announcement, also featuring Chicago rapper Common and Bulls teammate Derrick Rose, Friday and Saturday afternoon the center will host a Peace Tournament at the United Center, bringing together affected youth from all over the city.
“The violence is not a problem that’s going on on the South Side. The violence is not a problem that’s going on on the West Side. This is a Chicago problem and we’re all in this together,” Noah said Friday at the Major Adams Community Center, not far from the United Center and where his mother does art programming for kids from the community. “It’s not a commercial that’s going to make a difference. It’s not a Peace Tournament that’s going on that’s going to make a difference. These are all tools to bring awareness to what we’re doing, to the issues, and we’re hoping that bringing awareness to our foundation will raise money for programs and for initiatives to help the kids.
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“There’s too many kids out there on the street with nowhere to go, nothing to do. So our foundation is all about programs and initiatives, and to maximize our initiatives and the programs, we need to bring awareness,” he went on to explain. “Basketball has always been my outlet, my way to express myself and I feel like that’s what these kids are missing, a way to express themselves.
“All this violence that’s going on in Chicago, I feel like it’s all our problem.”
Throughout July, Noah’s foundation, with community director Cobe Williams leading the way—Williams, who also works with the anti-violence organization Ceasefire, was prominently featured in the award-winning documentary, “The Interrupters”—has hosted tournaments on the South and West sides, leading up to the bigger event, a continuation of the Peace Tournaments that have been hosted at St. Sabina Church on the South Sides the past two falls.
“It’s people from all around the city. We’re mixing the teams up and I think that Chicago’s a great place. I love Chicago. Chicago is also a very divided place and I think it’s important—sports is something that unites people and this Peace Tournament at the United Center is very, very special to me. To be able to do that where we play, where we compete every day is special. The United Center is not just special for the Chicago Bulls, but everybody in Chicago. Just to be able to play there is something that’s really special and to have guys from all around the city play together, guys that usually wouldn’t be hanging together, for them to be playing basketball together is a beautiful thing,” Noah explained. “It’s going to be South Side against West Side, so there’s going to be a lot of competition going on. Derrick [Rose] will probably coach the South Side team. I think [Chicago native and Houston Rockets guard] Patrick Beverley’s coming, coaching the West Side team. I’ll be the hype man on the mic. It’ll be fun and I’m really excited for it. We’ve been doing these Peace leagues for a couple years now and for it to be at the United Center, it’s really special. It started at Father Pfleger’s place, in a small gym, St. Sabina on the South Side. So we really appreciate him. It wouldn’t be possible without him, his vision.”
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“We all have to come together and sometimes you turn on the news, and you hear these things, it’s so horrifying, you want to turn it off. It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not happening in my neighborhood, I don’t want anything to do with it.’ That’s not right either. So we have to find a way, together—whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, whatever you are—to come together and solve this together, and I don’t know what the answers are. I really don’t, but I’m just trying my best,” he added. “What it is is just bringing awareness, bringing awareness to what’s going on, bringing awareness to the violence and have a good day for everybody, and then with all this awareness hopefully we can do something positive.”
Noah continued: “To me personally, this is just as important as winning a championship. Everybody knows that the Bulls and basketball is very important to me, but it’s a lot bigger than that.
“This is what it’s all about. It’s about helping the next generation and leading them the right way.”