MILWAUKEE -- Go to COA Youth & Family Centers after school hours and you will usually find a gym full of teenage boys playing basketball. There are no fights. No arguments. More than just basketball is going on here.
"It's positive on the court," said Brandon Thompson. "You take out your anger with the ball -- not with your hands. It's like you take it out on the court. We all family. Once you're on the court, that's your family."
18-year-old Thompson, like the others who take part in these games, feels safe on the court -- and that is saying a lot.
Many of these young people have seen and experienced an awful lot in their young lives.
"Yeah, it's a fear of mine, getting caught up -- because I have a lot of friends that have been caught up and eventually either behind bars or in a grave," said Thompson.
The stories these teenagers tell are disturbing.
18-year-old Tim Hamlan has been shot twice. The first time at the age of 16, while walking down the street near 25th and Burleigh with another teen. Hamlan was shot in the leg. The other teen was shot in the chest. Both survived.
"It slowed me down some, to put me on the right track, for me to realize that it's not nothing to play with out here now. I need to settle down," said Hamlan.
The second time Hamlan was in the car with a friend. Someone shot at that friend through the car and a bullet struck Hamlan.
"When that happened, I stopped hanging around all my friends I used to hang around then because...I don't be with these guys 24/7 so I don't know what they do outside when we're not together," Hamlan said.
Keyshun Nealey was devastated by violence four years ago when he was 12. His best friend was killed while walking with someone who attempted a robbery -- which carries a lot of irony for Nealey.
"He always told me 'don't hang around the wrong crowd of people.' Like, he influenced me growing up. He told me 'don't hang around with the wrong crowd of people,'" Nealey said.
Besides being directly affected by gun violence, these teenagers living in the 53206 zip code of Milwaukee's inner city are indirectly affected as well. The area is bounded by I-43 on the east, 27th Street on the west, North Avenue to the south and Capitol Drive to the north.
The area is documented as having extremely high unemployment, a high poverty rate, and an extremely high concentration of residents who are or have been incarcerated. The effect of all this and the teens' personal tragedies? Their world is a lot smaller than most.
"I don't like walking around now sometimes. I don't like getting in cars with people either," said Hamlan.
Nealey admits living in fear.
"Sometimes, yes. Like when I'm walking to the store at 8:30 at night I have flashbacks about what happened to my friend and I just hope it don't happen to me," Nealey said.
Thompson says his life is widdled down to a safe routine.
"It's school work, gym, home, shower, eat, homework," Thompson said.
All three credit Chris Morgan and his basketball program with helping them focus on the right things, the positive things.
"He showed me how to control my temper because actually I have a temper problem -- but he showed me like, if you feel like you're about to harm you or harm somebody else, just walk away. Get calm -- or just dribble a ball or just go work out," said Hamlan.
Chris Morgan is a staff member at the COA Youth & Family Centers on Burleigh in the 53206 zip code -- an area where he grew up. He's experienced some of the same things the teenagers he mentors have.
"Like gun violence -- murders. A lot of loss in my family and in the neighborhood," Morgan said.
In fact, one of the most impactful events happened in 2009 when he was almost 21. His cousin was killed.
"Me and him were actually standing outside together. I walked down and he walked up. And by the time I got to my grandmother's house -- I heard the gunshots. I have a hard time dealing with it myself," Morgan said.
Morgan sees the direction some of the kids are headed and the reasons why -- and when he can -- he redirects the poor choices.
"I really have to like sit down and 'listen, this is not the path you want to go. We want to be better than what's going on so we gonna work hard and if you need help I'm here,'" Morgan said.
A few years back, five of the teenagers came to Morgan looking to start an AAU traveling basketball team -- but tournaments are hundreds of dollars, not including transportation and hotel. So he gave them a challenge: if they would show him that they "all" have good grades -- he'd pay for it.
They did it -- and the Run and Gun Elite Team was formed.
"So then we went to our first tournament and we've been going every since. As long as they can maintain the good grades," said Morgan
Morgan sees the potential in these kids -- and they hope others will see it too.
"Don't never give up on somebody or don't never give up on me," said Thompson.
Hamlan wants people to give them a chance.
"I don't want nobody to be afraid of me or none of that. I just want people to look at me as a person who can help you out or changed his life or something good," said Hamlan.
Morgan says the potential is here if people will just take the time to look.
"I feel like if they see what's really going on in this area then things will be different. Things can start to change and the area can start to progress in the right direction with the support of the surrounding areas," Morgan said.
If you'd like to assist Run and Gun Elite Basketball team and encourage them to continue to rise above the violence check out their Facebook page by CLICKING HERE.