Atlanta Hawks pledge $40 million to fight the racial opportunity gap — where should it go?

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Hawks principle owner Tony Ressler.

Hawks principle owner Tony Ressler.
Image: (AP)

The opportunity gap for Black people in this country is devastating.

Across the nation, we have seen the disparities in wealth, education, and resources between majority-white communities and majority Black Communities.

These differences still appear in largely black populated cities such as Atlanta.

Enter the Hawks and principal owners Tony Ressler and Jami Gertz.

The organization announced on Tuesday that through the Ressler Gertz Family Foundation the Hawks Foundation and the franchise a $40 million donation will be made to empower the Black community which will all be distributed within the next 10 years.

Richard Rose, the President of the NAACP in Atlanta, said that the chapter applauds the gift by the Hawks and says that they have been in contact with the team about this initiative.

“We knew it was coming,” said Rose “We welcome the investment and not only the investment in the black community but the investment in the future of America.”

The $40 million will be broken up into four different gifts. A $5 million donation from the Ressler Gertz Family Foundation will be made to the Herman J. Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE), the largest non-profit center for Black entrepreneurs in the nation, to help black businesses grow and gain access to opportunities for exposure.

Ressler has a net worth of $3.8 billion, and his wife Gertz, is a successful actor with several starring roles in the 1980s, including the films Less Than Zero and The Lost Boys.

The Hawks Foundation will donate $10 million over 10 years to the newly created NBA Foundation that is focused on supporting charities and organizations that can create change both nationally and in the city of Atlanta.

The franchise itself will put $25 million toward diversity, inclusion and community programming.

Atlanta was also one of the first NBA teams to offer up their arena as a polling place for the 2020 election.

Rose says that education is a major issue in the Atlanta area and that these gifts could be useful if utilized to help decrease the gaps in educational funding.

“I’m hoping that a good bit of it is going to be with education,” said Rose. “We have a situation now that is heightened by the pandemic where too many black families don’t have the technology to do the Zoom meetings and distance learning.

“That is a need that continues to plague the black community, the structure of how we finance education is almost designed to be discriminatory. K-12 education is a big issue,” Rose added. “If we can get started toward self-sufficiency it starts in the schools.”

Rose also detailed the need for resources in housing, health and transportation for Black people in the area. A commitment to restructuring the criminal justice system that doesn’t resemble the slave patrols that harmed Black people for centuries.

The investment in Black small businesses in the area is a step in the right direction for the city. Yet, Rose hopes that the Hawks and other organizations can support, Black Friday 52, their initiative to boost Black businesses in the area.

“Small businesses are the biggest employers across this country,” said Rose. “We know how blacks have been discriminated against, in Georgia for example, [where] less than two percent of state contracts are awarded to Black-owned businesses we are cut out of so many areas.”

The donation from the Hawks and their owners is a start in helping to bridge the racial gap in this country. Many Black people in this nation are one connection away from creating generational wealth for themselves and the people in their communities.

There is still a long way to go in fixing these injustices that have plagued Black communities but it’s a nice sign to see professional teams stepping up in this fight.

“We are still faced with the symbols of oppression.. we are still faced with the defense of denial where people just say that’s not a problem,” Rose said. “The struggle is not over.”

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