Atlanta might have one of the highest concentrations of Black folks in the country, but it also ranks among the lowest in economic mobility within our communities. So in being the largest nonprofit center in the country that’s devoted to empowering Black entrepreneurs and small business owners, the Atlanta-based Herman J. Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE) needs allllllllll the help it can get in order to continue offering access to the resources, networks and assistance necessary for Black folks to flourish.
Enter Atlanta Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler.
“I was like, why would we ever try to reinvent the wheel?” Ressler told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They have what I want to support and, frankly, make bigger and better.”
By bigger and better, Ressler means that The Ressler Gertz Family Foundation (Ressler and fellow Hawks principal owner Jami Gertz’s philanthropic arm) is partnering with the Atlanta Hawks to pour some serious cash into empowering Atlanta’s Black community. And by serious cash, I mean invest as much as $40 million.
The Ressler Gertz Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Hawks Principal Owners Tony Ressler and Jami Gertz, in partnership with the Atlanta Hawks, announced a long-term, comprehensive plan to provide financial, marketing and educational resources to Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the city of Atlanta in an effort to create greater economic opportunity in the Black community. Additionally, the franchise announced plans to increase investment in its award-winning Diversity & Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility/Community Development departments.
Here’s how that investment is broken down, per the Atlantic Journal-Constitution:
RCIE will receive $5 million in order to “expand its reach and provide financial support to local Black-owned businesses.” It will also “increase RCIE’s ability to provide Black entrepreneurs access to corporate partners and capital” and “utilization of all Hawks marketing channels.” Lastly, Senior-level Hawks executives will provide regular mentorship and education to entrepreneurs who are enrolled in RCIE programs.
The Hawks Foundation also pledged $10 million over 10 years to the NBA Foundation, which was launched in August and will not only contribute to national charity organizations but “facilitate sustainable programming and create positive change locally.”
The Hawks are investing $11 million into their Diversity and Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility/Community Development departments, which includes hiring a vice president of D&I Programming.
The Hawks will increase its commitment to community programs with a minimum of $14 million over 10 years, and State Farm will be expanding its Good Neighbor Club program, which heads up a court renovation program so more children in the Atlanta area have a chance to play.
Ressler understands that access or assets alone aren’t enough to balance the scales, and in order to achieve true change, relationships must be a part of the equation. His hope is that by providing mentorship opportunities to entrepreneurs that are associated with RCIE, that he can help bridge that gap.
“Many of these young entrepreneurs didn’t grow up with the network of Wall Street contacts, of banking contacts, of venture-capital contacts, of private-equity contacts,” said Ressler. “It doesn’t make it a lesser business, [it] makes the business less connected maybe, but not less valuable.”
Hopefully, Ressler’s efforts will also lead to a set percentage of Black-owned businesses and vendors calling the Hawks’ arena home, as well as other initiatives that could help close the racial wealth gap. But this is a good starting point as the NBA attempts to follow through on its promises to combat racial inequality.