Jamir Ellerby, Jay Peña and Brian Hall stand under the rimless basketball hoops in Syracuse’s Kelley Brothers Memorial Park.
Jimere Ellerbe, Jay Peña and Brian Hall stand under the rimless basketball hoops in Syracuse’s Kelley Brothers Memorial Park.
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hile basketball may be the draw for dozens of underprivileged youth, Pass Da R.O.C.K. is really hoping what they’re scoring is a better sense of empowerment and more respect for themselves and their community.

Nate Peña started Pass Da R.O.C.K. in Los Angeles before moving it to Syracuse in 2001 to create a positive environment for inner-city youth. The R.O.C.K. in the group’s name stands for Relationships, Opportunities, Character, and Kindness.

Peña said the name represents the organization’s goals to reduce the imbalances in society that Black and Latino teenage males are combatting constantly from poverty to racism to misperceptions.

“It’s not that we’re up here with all the answers trying to rescue people,” Peña said “It’s that we are equals who have different opportunities made available to us.

“We just want to level the playing field.”

Pass Da Rock Holds Final Weekly Empowerment Meeting
Pass Da Rock Holds Final Weekly Empowerment Meeting
Jimere Ellerby and Brian Hall (left) continue working on drywalling while Steyvon Jones and Jaden Peña rest (right).
Pass Da Rock Holds Final Weekly Empowerment Meeting
At the start of the pandemic, the city of Syracuse removed all of the rims from public basketball hoops and restricted hours of local green spaces.

While COVID-19 protocols did not allow for the hundred-person gatherings Peña was accustomed to this past year, the group staged small empowerment workshops to teach members valuable life skills such as cooking and home improvement.

Along with the training, the workshops proved to be a reprieve from the chaos the health pandemic has caused while offering a chance for teens to bond and return to a sense of normalcy for a few hours each week.

The workshops are among Peña’s plans going forward post-pandemic and using mentorship and other tactics to keep the teens motivated and driven.

“I think that’s the goal of what we want to teach them — work hard despite the circumstances,” he said. “Despite what society is saying you should be or what you might become, work hard.”

On the last night of Pass Da R.O.C.K.’s youth empowerment program, members were taught basic plumbing, as well as how to season and cook steaks. They also built on previously learned skills by baking muffins and cooking Brussels sprouts.
Steyvon Jones horses around by pointing a flashlight in Jamir Ellerby’s eyes as the pair work on fixing a sink.
Until later, guys.
Avatar for TJ Shaw

is a photojournalism major and a contributor for The NewsHouse.