For 13 years, Otis “Vegas Don” Lyons and Campaign4Change have been dedicated to enhancing the lives of Durham’s inner-city communities.
Lyons, a former drug dealer and gang-banger, has created numerous anti-drug, anti-gang programs and activities to push his motto, “Use your mind, not your nine.”
And although it’s hard to know, sometimes, whether or not you’re getting through, Lyons got some confirmation with a recent email he received from Matthew Mangum. In the message, Mangum expressed what playing in the Don’s Basketball League had meant to him and what it did for him.
Dear Coach Don,
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I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to play in Don's basketball league. I learned what it means to truly be a team player, not just on the court but off the court as well. You are a role model to me. Your league taught me valuable lessons and helped me balance work, school, basketball and the A,B honor roll. It changed my life, and helped me mature. Your league also showed me that hard work pays off. I have been accepted to a Division 1 school to go to college. I don’t think I would've done it without you Coach Don. I would like to give back to you and my community by being an assistant coach and a mentor to the young men in your league.
The Don’s Basketball League is a summer league for ages 12 to 16. When Lyons first started the league with just four teams, he had to turn kids away.
“To hear some of them begging me to be on a team just so they could have something to do during the summer tugged at my heart,” he said.
Now, the DBL has grown into a 10-team sponsor league – including the Durham News – complete with cheerleaders, a mascot, fan club and halftime entertainment.
The league is unique in that it is run like a professional league, complete with tryouts, a draft, season trades, an all-star game and playoffs. A new bonus this year is Capitol Broadcasting will televise the championship game.
But it’s not all about basketball. Parent and youth workshops are held for non-sports related topics such as literacy, financial planning, conflict resolution and more. Report cards must be turned in in order to remain on the team.
“Minds are like parachutes; they only function when they’re open,” Lyons said.
Tryouts are May 3-4, 3 to 6 p.m. at the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, 810 N. Alston Ave., where the games will also be played. Visit www.DBLNBA.com.
Lyons hopes this summer will be the last one where he has to rent out someone else’s space. A fundraising campaign has begun to buy a building on Camden Avenue in Durham complete with classrooms, a basketball court and more. Lyons’ goal is to raise $2 million in 90 days. A June 4 fundraising brunch is in the works.
Visit www.C4C4LIFE.com for more information. Campaign4Change is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.