CHICAGO — CPS students return to class on Monday and there are several back-to-school giveaways taking place this weekend. One event is celebrating the anniversary of a nonprofit that uses basketball to put young people on a path to healing. 

McKinley Nelson was only 21 years old when he launched Project sWish, informed by the lessons he learned while focusing on his own mental health, after losing friends to gun violence in Chicago.

“I wanted to alleviate the pain I went through for the next kid coming up behind me,” Nelson said.

The nonprofit uses basketball as a way to open the door to critical conversations, transformation and healing.

“A lot of those guys that I lost, we played basketball together growing up, and I knew they would rather be playing basketball with me than in the streets risking their life. So I wanted to develop basketball programming to keep the city safe,” Nelson said. 

This week, Project sWish is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a series of events, including a ‘Back-2-School’ fest on the campus of the DuSable Museum, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Kids who attend score free school supplies and vaccinations. The event also featured basketball and gaming stations and an open mic showcase powered by Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks organization.

Visit the Project sWish website for more information

Marking the five-year milestone, Nelson says his wish is to expand his reach to young people in other cities.

“You know the sky’s the limit,” Nelson said. “I know what the response has been here, and I want to carry that around the country if I can.”