With the sound of rap music, the twang of basketballs hitting the net and the voices of children playing in the background, an MU professor stood surrounded by young men eager to play. Ty-Ron Douglas’ mind, however, wasn’t on the hoops.
“It’s not just basketball,” he said as he lit the fuse on his Back to School Explosion in Douglass Park.
Sports are just one of the featured attractions at the weekendlong festival, which combines a couple of Douglas’ passions: teaching and ministry.
When he’s not teaching education leadership and policy analysis at MU, Douglas is the lead pastor of Salt City Church, which works with the Columbia Seventh-day Adventist Church. For the past six years, he’s led the team that organizes a festival in central Columbia, mixing fun in the park with health care resources and life coaching.
The festival began Thursday with appearances by motivational speaker and author Taurus Montgomery at Lange Middle School and Blue Ridge Elementary. Other events are offered throughout the weekend.
“It’s really a comprehensive event that focuses on bringing together the diverse demographics of our city,” Douglas said. “So, the urban community of our city, the collegiate community of our city, the business community of our city.”
Evening activities always begin at 6 p.m. in Douglass Park. The first event was a four-on-four basketball tournament Thursday featuring teams of college and high school students.
Todd Rogers, a junior at MU, played on one of the teams with his roommate, Macgyver Newton. He was surprised by the turnout.
“I thought it was just gonna be a couple of guys playing pickup, but there’s like a bunch of people here, too,” Rogers said.
“The basketball tournament attracts a lot of the high school students, but the event caters to all ages,” Douglas said.
Kimberly Brown, a mother and Columbia resident, said she thought the event was “really excellent.” She especially appreciated the events targeting younger kids, as her 7-year-old son was set to play basketball Friday night.
Professionals and members of the community offer health services such as blood pressure screenings, complementary dental supplies and mental health counseling, Douglas said.
“Those are the things we do to try and help them and really triage,” Douglas said. “To get resources to people and to get people to the right folks who can help them.”
Jessie Cicillian co-owns the local nonprofit Como Kings, which coaches youth basketball teams. Cicillian believes the Back to School Explosion gives the community a chance to get together.
The event also receives support from other universities such as Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, Lincoln University in Jefferson City and Andrews University in Bering Springs, Michigan, Douglas said. Oakwood, his alma mater, will play the winners of the basketball tournament.
Although the Salt City Church is sponsoring the event, being a member is not a requirement for attendance, and admission is free.
“You don’t have to be religious. There’s aspects where it is strictly motivational, especially in the schools,” Douglas said. “But then there are other moments where it becomes explicitly serious about life decisions and the possibility that there is hope.”