“A place where everything is community and community is everything,” and “a place where there is something for everyone.”
Those are some of the mottos for The ARK, a state-of-the-art sports complex facility offering families in Jackson a safe and fun place to go. The 110,000-square-foot building was previously a Sam’s Club Warehouse. Purchased by New Horizon Church and built on values of faith, family, community, growth, impact, and vision, The ARK utilizes a community model with designated community areas of programming structured to impact its participants positively.
Undoubtedly, building The ARK into what it is today took a village, but the vision of long-time Jacksonian and New Horizon Church member Charles Lewis planted the seed. Lewis was homeless by age thirty, on the road to becoming another inner city statistic. At a crossroads, Lewis could succumb to his past mistakes or use his life experiences to influence other young people, prayerfully steering them in a more positive direction. Lewis chose to beat the odds and use his story and love of basketball to meet youth where they were, on outdoor city or neighborhood courts. Lewis founded The Development Academy (TDA) following a God-given vision to use the game to reach area youth.
Unfortunately, many communities have removed access to basketball courts. It’s common for it to be illegal to put basketball goals on sidewalks due to criminal activity or unruly gatherings. Youth in inner cities flock to any place for the chance to play a game they enjoy, but it leaves them susceptible to unfortunate influences. Situations all too familiar to Lewis further fueled his passion and mission to see a safe place for the community to gather off the streets become a reality.
“I’ve been dreaming about [a place like The ARK] since 2012. Just growing up here…and they believed in the vision; they believed in what we saw and gave us this opportunity,” said Lewis.
Charles Lewis is now the Director of Basketball Development and CEO/Founder of The ARK and The Development Academy. Being obedient has led to Lewis training some of the top players in the state and the nation, including several collegiate and overseas professional basketball players. More significant than basketball, TDA has encountered and impacted hundreds, possibly thousands, youths throughout its tenure.
The ARK is a success story that is still being written. The ARK and its dynamic staff beyond Lewis include but are not limited to Ronnie Crudup, Jr., founder and executive director/administrator of New Horizon Ministries, Inc., and Dr. Adrianne L. Swinney, Executive Director/Administrator of The ARK have their sights set on the future.
The ARK will be expanding in 2024 thanks to celebrities outside of Mississippi. Dallas Mavericks point guard Kyrie Irving has donated funds to add a basketball court to the facility, which will be completed by the end of January. When asked about an NBA star’s donation, Lewis said, “My hope is it inspires kids to know that somebody’s watching you. Often, our kids don’t think anyone cares or wants to recruit them. I hope this gets them excited.”
But The ARK is so much more than basketball. Its overall mission is to provide a safe space that nurtures and fosters personal development, community, and growth for citizens of Jackson through creative arts, sports, fitness, education, and other programming. That investment is facilitated by providing participants with the programming, resources, exposure, and information needed to become the best versions of themselves while contributing positively to the community around them.
You can learn more about The Ark at theark601.org.
Photos courtesy of The ARK.