LeBron James, Naomi Osaka and Patrick Mahomes among 5 “activist athletes” honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year

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Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, U.S. Open tennis champ Naomi Osaka, Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart and Kansas City Chiefs teammates Patrick Mahomes and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff are being honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for their athletic achievements and activism.

The five athlete-activists were honored in a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, racial tensions, and presidential election. In a Sports Illustrated video narrated by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he described the athletes as “champions in their sport and of causes that seek to level society’s playing field.”

“In a year seemingly designed to divide physically, emotionally, politically, they found ways to unite, to inspire, to rebuild the shared experience sports usually provides, even in the most unusual circumstances,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “They are athletes, they are activists.”

Following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, James led a group of Black athletes and entertainers to form More Than A Vote, a nonprofit focusing on fighting voter suppression. The organization helped recruit more than 42,000 poll workers for the presidential election and helped nearly 300,000 people vote at arenas. The group is (Image Credit: CBS NEWS)                                                            currently involved with the Georgia Senate runoffs.

On Monday, James also won the 2020 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award in honor of his social activism, which in addition to More Than a Vote also includes opening up a school in his hometown. “It’s an honor that I will never ever forget to be linked with such a great human being in Muhammad,” James told SI. “Hopefully he’s looking down on me and saying that I’m continuing his legacy,” he added.

Read the full article at NBC NEWS.

Two Black women will be head coaches in the same NCAA women’s Final Four for the first time

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South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley celebrates after cutting the last piece of the net during the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

By Matias Grez and Jill Martin

This year’s March Madness might have exposed gaps in gender equity in college sports, but for two Black women, the 2021 NCAA women’s tournament will always represent a moment when history was made.

For the first time in NCAA women’s tournament history, two Black women will be head coaches in the same Final Four.
South Carolina’s Dawn Staley will be appearing in her third Final Four, winning the title back in 2017, while Adia Barnes and her Arizona team will make their debut appearance.
March Madness is the pinnacle of college basketball, where 64 teams — full of the next generation of WNBA and NBA players — duke it out in a single-elimination tournament over two weeks to crown the best team. The event is known for big moments, upsets and great action.
Photo: CNN
Speaking to reporters about the historic feat following South Carolina’s win over Texas, Staley said she was “super proud of Adia” and was “cheering for her to get it done.”
“It was not for any other reason besides us being represented at the biggest stage of women’s college basketball,” she said.
“And that’s because there are so many Black coaches out there that don’t get opportunity because when ADs [Athletics Directors] don’t see it, they don’t see it — and they’re going to see it on the biggest stage of a Friday night, that two Black women are representing two programs in the Final Four, something that has never been done before.
“You know, our history here in women’s basketball is so filled with so many Black bodies that for this to be happening in 2021, to me, is long overdue, but we’re proud. We’re happy.
“I know my phone is probably full of text messages of Black coaches all across the country, just congratulating us on doing that, on being present, being in the moment, being able to take our programs to this place.”
Both Staley and Barnes are former WNBA players — the latter winning a title with the Seattle Storm in 2004 — and Barnes revealed she has been inundated with messages from former teammates.
On Friday, South Carolina will face Stanford, while Arizona will meet UConn.
The two women have guided their respective teams to the Final Four in impressive fashion, with Staley’s South Carolina comfortably swatting Texas aside in a 62-34 win, while Barnes’ Arizona powered past Indiana in a bruising 66-53 victory.
It also means Staley and Barnes are the only former WNBA players to have led teams to the Final Four as head coaches.
“I know Adia utilizes all of her basketball knowledge as a player and she’s been a coach long enough that she’s not just a suit,” Staley said.
“It’s always going to be part player in us and that’s why our players … we are so relatable to them. They understand it because it’s coming from a place of ‘we’ve done that. We’re trying to help you get to that place where we can have longevity in our league.’
“Representation matters. It’s nothing against anybody else that lost to us, but when you see two Black women representing in this way, I hope the decision makers who — because there are a lot of jobs out there that you give Black women an opportunity — not just give them the job.
Read the full article at CNN. 

Venus Williams Pens Powerful Essay on Gender Equality, Announces Campaign to Advocate for Equal Pay

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Venus williams wearing a gray suit jacket smiling at the camera

By Katie Campione, People

Venus Williams is once again lending her voice to the movement for gender equality.

The five-time Wimbledon champion penned a moving essay for British Vogue on Monday about using her platform to advocate for equal pay.

In 2007, Williams became the first woman to receive equal prize money to her male counterparts. While men and women now get equal prize money at the majors and combined events, Williams said there is still a long way to go in the sport and across all industries to make sure women are valued in their fields.

“There is still a mindset that women’s tennis isn’t as valuable as men’s,” she wrote. As four-time Olympic gold medalist, Williams said “we must not allow [that mindset] to dictate society’s progress.”

“I firmly believe that sport mirrors life and life mirrors sport,” Williams wrote. “The lack of equality and equal opportunities in tennis is a symptom of the obstacles women face around the world.”

The tennis player added that, in the United States, women made 82.3 cents for every dollar men made in 2019. Inspired by that “shocking” statistic, Williams said she is initiating a campaign called #PrivilegeTax.

Ahead of Equal Pay Day on March 24, customers at participating brands can donate 19 cents at checkout to benefit the Girls Inc. of Greater Los Angeles organization. Brands partnering with Williams for the campaign include Nordstrom, Tracy Anderson, Tom Brady’s TB12, Carbon38, Credo Beauty and Happy Viking.

Click here to read the full article on People.

Master P Changes Focus from Owning NBA Team to Owning an HBCU

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Master P posing with his hand over his mouth, wearing a suit and glasses

By Will Moss, HBCU Connect

The recent highlighting of Historically Black Colleges and Universities has led many to learn that most of these schools were founded on land grants provided by the government during the Reconstruction Era. Realizing this has motivated Master P to take matters into his own hands to change the future.

Master P took to Instagram where he revealed his life goal has now changed.

“I used to want to own an NBA team but now I want to own a HBCU,” opens his video’s caption.

“This message is all about educating our people,” Master P said in the video. “Anybody that’s listening to this and has a business, I want y’all to join this movement with me. We need to make sure our kids get educated the way other the cultures are educated.”

The spotlight has been refocused on HBCUs in recent years. Michael B. Jordan created a basketball invitational to showcase talent at the institutions and the NBA has put an emphasis on supporting them. During the NBA All-Star Game, the league generated $3 million that will be used to promote these colleges and universities.

“It was part of the reason why we’re here in Atlanta,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, per CNN. Atlanta is home to a host of HBCUs including the acclaimed Atlanta University Center (AUC) which consists of legendary schools Morehouse College, Spellman College, and Clark Atlanta University. “This was an opportunity to focus on the HBCUs,” Silver added.

Master P wanted to extend this goal on his own. He explained in his IG caption that HBCUs graduate more women than any other league of higher education. This includes the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, who graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Click here to read the full article on HBCU Connect

‘We Don’t Have The Luxury To Fall Apart’: Black Businesses Get Creative To Survive

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Keitra Bates stands outside of the original location of Marddy's in Atlanta. It's a shared kitchen where home cooks can prepare their goods, and collectively market them.

By Debbie Elliott

Entrepreneur Keitra Bates stands in a gleaming glass-front retail shop in a new development on the south side of Atlanta.

“We’re looking at almost 2,000-sq-ft. of raw space,” she says, pointing out the floor-to-ceiling windows that face onto Atlanta’s popular Beltline, railways converted to trails and parks encircling the city.

Photo Lynsey Weatherspoon for NPR

This will soon be the second location for a business she started called Marddy’s — short for Market Buddies, a shared kitchen where home cooks can prepare their goods, and collectively market them.

Her dream began at a far less glamorous spot in a long-neglected neighborhood west of downtown.

“When I was first standing outside with no keys on Fair Street and a boarded-up door, I would not have guessed this,” Bates says.

“This place is proof that you can save yourself,” she says.

Like many Black-owned businesses, the pandemic had the Atlanta food entrepreneur wondering if her fledgling shared commercial kitchen would survive. Looking back a year later, she says it meant getting creative and doubling-down on her mission of connecting with other Black entrepreneurs in order to thrive, and grow her business.

Creating affordable environment for Black businesses

She acknowledges it’s a big step opening this second location at the new Pittsburgh Yards development.

“There’s no hiding,” she says. “Everything that we say that we are, people can kind of peek in and see, like, are they really making those pies? Yeah, we’re really making the pies.”

Black-owned small businesses have long faced difficult odds whether it’s access to financial capital, or discrimination in contracting. Now, the pandemic has hit them the hardest, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that Black businesses closed at more than twice the rate of white-owned businesses in early 2020.

Pittsburgh Yards is specifically designed to address the obstacles facing Black entrepreneurs. The public-private project converted an old transportation hub into shared working space.

The idea is to create an affordable environment for African American businesses to nurture one another, says Erika Smith with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, (which also sponsors NPR). Smith says Atlanta’s Beltline is an economic generator, but has also fueled gentrification.

“We are realizing in communities where the Beltline is developed, it’s increased the cost of rents for residents and commercial businesses,” Smith says. “So part of the strategy is how can we leverage a physical space like Pittsburgh Yards to also satisfy that business displacement issue.”

“They have a right to survive”

That’s Keitra Bates story. She ran a pizzeria in west Atlanta until revitalization attracted a new landlord who raised her rent. She couldn’t afford to stay open. And she saw other Black-owned businesses priced out as well, closing what had been venues where local home cooks could sell their breads, sauces and pies. She calls them hidden entrepreneurs in danger of being ghosted, along with the traditional flavors of the neighborhood.

Bates is one of the Americans NPR has been following as part of our Kitchen Table Conversations, which started four years ago.

“These people have created a business with their talent and they have a right to survive,” Bates told NPR in 2019 after she got Marddy’s up and running. “Just because there’s new money coming in doesn’t mean that their business should get snuffed out.”

Bates, who is 47, has worked to grow a catering business, aggregating the products her vendors make. About a dozen now use Marddy’s shared kitchen, making products including spices, flavored nuts, and vegan cheese sauce.

Read the full article at NPR.

Precious Lee Is The First Plus-Sized Model To Walk The Versace Runway

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Precious Lee plus-sized model at a marver premier wearing a black bodycon dress

Precious Lee, a Black fashion icon from Atlanta, Georgia, sat down with Good Morning America to reflect on her historic achievement as one of the first plus-sized models on the Versace runway. The trailblazer, who was one of three plus-sized models to make history at the runway show in Italy last year, said she was overcome with emotion before her interview last week.

“I’ve always imagined myself on that runway,” Lee said. “I’ve always adored Versace. I grew up in a Versace home. We always loved Versace as a family.”

When she took the stage in Milan, Italy, the 31-year-old said she was thinking of her sister, who was also a model, according to Allure.

“The show was the day before her birthday,” Lee said. “Anytime I have a really big moment or just when I’m feeling the need for the energy of my sister — I felt her right before I was about to go out.”

As she relied on the energy of her sister while waiting for her turn to walk, Lee heard another comforting voice.

“I’m so focused and all of a sudden I was about to cry and then someone backstage was like ‘you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. Go!'” the Georgia native said. “I turned the corner and I zoned out and I started to float.”

In the midst of the momentous occasion, Lee became more grateful for all the support she received during her journey.

“It was an acknowledgment of how supported I’ve been,” she said. “It was such a proud moment of arriving at an actual dream.”

Lee has also made history as the first Black curvy model to appear on the cover of Vogue, according to her biography. Additionally, she’s appeared at New York Fashion Week for designers Christian Siriano, Tommy Hilfiger and Matthew Adams Nolan. Lee has also been featured in other magazines such as Glamour, Paper Magazine, V Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and M Le Monde. 

Read the full article at Blavity.

Naomi Osaka cruises to Australian Open title, claiming her FOURTH Grand Slam and second triumph at Melbourne Park

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A Herculean effort was required to stage the 2021 Australian Open and navigate many of the pandemic restrictions. But the tournament still provided high-quality matches and produced two incredible champions in Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic.

With a delayed start, quarantine woes and the reemergence of the fans (then their absence and return yet again), Tennis Australia managed the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus as best as possible and continued to build on the successes of the 2020 US Open and French Open. There were upsets, miraculous runs by unknowns and thrilling on-court battles.

If there’s one thing the tournament made perfectly clear, it’s that, much like its predecessor, the 2021 season will be full of constant change — on and off the court.

Here are some key takeaways from the year’s first major.

The 23-year-old left little doubt about her current place in women’s tennis with another dominant performance. Defeating Jennifer Brady in the final, Osaka notched her fourth major title, tying her with Kim Clijsters and trailing just Serena and Venus Williams among active players — and is now on a 21-match win streak.

While her straight-set victory over Serena Williams in the semifinals garnered most of the attention during her run in Melbourne, it was perhaps her match against two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round that was the most impressive. Pushed to the brink in the third set and down 5-3, Osaka staved off two match points and never looked back. She won the next three games and advanced, ultimately becoming the eighth woman in the Open era to win the Australian Open after saving a match point.

With her latest triumph, as well as her current activism and celebrity off the court, Osaka is unquestionably the new face of the sport. But she doesn’t seem particularly fazed.

“Honestly, I don’t really think too much about it,” she said on Sunday. “For me, I just focus on myself and what I can do. So I don’t really put too much pressure on myself in that way.”

Read the full article at ESPN.

For Diverse L.A. Businesses, A Chance To Take A Bite Of The Super Bowl Pie

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Black woman outside of her shop holding pies for super bowl

Jeanette Bolden-Pickens’ legacy should be solid gold. She won a gold medal for the United States as a sprinter in the 1984 Olympic Games, a victory for the home team.

Bolden-Pickens struck gold on the track at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. From there, head east on Martin Luther King Boulevard, then turn north on Central Avenue until reaching the corner of 27th Street. The drive takes about 10 minutes, and it takes Bolden-Pickens back to her childhood.

She grew up at the 27th Street Bakery. Her grandparents sold baked goods in the front of the store and lived in the back. If she was not in school or on the track, you could

(Image Credit – Andy Wong / Associated Press)

find her at the bakery.

The bakery opened in 1956, two years before the Dodgers arrived in Los Angeles, four years before the Lakers. It’s still there, and still in the family, with a website that embraces a different kind of legacy.

“What’s your family legacy?” the website asks. “Ours is making Homemade Sweet Potato Pies!”

After 24 years coaching at UCLA — her alma mater — and Central Florida, Bolden-Pickens now is a third-generation proprietor of the beloved bakery, faithfully producing peach cobbler, red velvet cake, pecan pie and the signature sweet potato pie.

Her mother, Alberta, was known in the neighborhood as “the pie lady.” Bolden-Pickens, 61, is training a fourth generation of family bakers.

“It’s really a godsend to have the bakery in our family for such a long time,” she said. “I have a grandson, and he’ll be the fifth generation. We’re really trying to make sure it stays alive.”

The NFL could provide an assist. With the Super Bowl scheduled for SoFi Stadium next year, Bolden-Pickens has signed up for a league program established to promote diversity among businesses bidding for a share of the corporate dollars surrounding the game.

The Business Connect program, administered locally by the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission (LASEC), links small companies owned by minorities, women, veterans and members of the LGBTQ community with Super Bowl business opportunities — not directly with the NFL, but through events associated with the game.

Read the full article at Los Angeles Times.

Longtime NBA Reporter Sekou Smith Dies of COVID-19 at Age 48

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sekou smith wearing a suit black background with years of life

Veteran NBA reporter Sekou Smith has died, his employer Turner Sports announced Tuesday. He was 48.

The National Association of Black Journalists’ sports task force said Smith died due to COVID-19 complications and remembered him fondly. “He was more than a colleague; he was a friend and brother to us and so many others,” NABJ said in a statement.

Smith made his name as a beat writer covering the Indiana Pacers and later the Atlanta Hawks before joining Turner Sports in 2009. Since then, he was a multi-platform star, working as an analyst for NBA TV, NBA.com writer and Hand Time Podcast host. He is survived by his wife, Heather and their three children, Gabriel, Rielly and Cameron.

“His commitment to journalism and the basketball community was immense and we will miss his warm, engaging personality,” the network said. “He was beloved by his Turner Sports and NBA friends and colleagues. Our deepest condolences are with his family and loved ones.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement on Smith, calling him a “beloved member of the NBA family.”

“Sekou was one of the most affable and dedicated reporters in the NBA and a terrific friend to so many across the league,” Silver said. “He covered the game for more than two decades, including the past 11 years with Turner Sports, where he showed his full range of skills as an engaging television analyst, podcast host and writer. Sekou’s love of basketball was clear to everyone who knew him and it always shined through in his work. Our heartfelt condolences go to his wife, Heather, and their children, Gabriel, Rielly and Cameron.”

Several former and current NBA players and journalists expressed their condolences. Former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade remembered Smith on Twitter.

“I’ve never had anything but positive interactions and conversations with Sekou Smith,” Wade said. “Our prayers go out to the Smith family. We lost a good one. Rest In Heaven.”

Phoenix Suns guard and NBPA president Chris Paul tweeted about Smith, saying, “What a kind and compassionate man we just lost.”

Marc J Spears, senior NBA writer for ESPN”s The Undefeated, shared a touching photo with Smith and thanked him.

“Thank you for your brotherly friendship, humor, honesty and compassion. Glad we had a chance to tell each other we loved each other three weeks ago. You were a gift to this Earth as a friend, father and a man Sekou Smith. Rest In Peace to my brother. Prayers to your wife & family.”

Read the full article at CBS News.

Hank Aaron Transcended Baseball Like Few Ever Have—or Will

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Young Hank Aaron playing baseball with dates of life

By Sports Illustrated

The Hall of Fame slugger, known as much for his graciousness as his 755 home runs, died at age 86.

Baseball is but a game. The consequences of wins and losses are trivial but for the ephemeral joy and sadness they leave on our soul like footprints in the sand. Those that play it well are renowned for their acumen at this very skill-specific endeavor. They are master craftsmen.

When age and illness take them, as they have so often in

(Image credit – Sports Illustrated)

the past 12 months, we lose part of our youths and hold tight to the memories of how they could throw or hit a baseball.

Among the nearly 20,000 Major League Baseball players, Hank Aaron was one of the very few who transcended the game. He was bigger than baseball. He was a beacon of civil rights, of humility and of honest work ethic, all qualities we associate with America at its best, not just in some sporting venture. His death at age 86 was announced by the Braves on Friday.

Americans, not just baseball fans, owe a debt of gratitude to Hank Aaron. Yes, he was one of the best to ever play this game. Aaron died as the all-time home run leader, at least among all players who played the game fairly, which happens to be the very bedrock of sports. No one ever combined hitting for average and power over a more sustained period.

Aaron played 23 seasons. He came to the plate almost 14,000 times. He hit .305 with 755 home runs and 6,856 total bases—more than 700 total bases beyond everyone else. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the list, Stan Musial, is more than 12 miles worth of bases.

Read the full article at Sports Illustrated.

“Michael Jordan never faced a superteam like LeBron James” Lakers star will be the GOAT if they beat the Nets

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Collage of LeBron James and Michael Jordan

By The Sports Rush

In the wake of the James Harden trade, the pendulum has swung decisively in LeBron James’ favor in terms of the GOAT debate with Michael Jordan.

NBA fans are suggesting on Twitter that James will be the undisputed GOAT if the Lakers beat these Nets. They definitely have a valid point. In terms of singular offensive firepower, there are few teams that compare to today’s Nets. We’ve never had 3 all-time great iso players on the same team.

(Image Credit – The Sports Rush)

In addition, the Nets are also deep in terms of their wing spots. Although their center rotation is now shaky in Jarrett Allen’s absence, they can remedy that by the trade deadline. There really are very few scenarios right now in which the Nets aren’t de facto favorites in the East.

Did Michael Jordan face worse competition than LeBron James?

This FiveThirtyEight article suggests that through the course of their numerous playoff campaigns, Jordan’s average competition was better than LeBron’s. Although this came out in May 2020, the comparisons are still valid since James didn’t face a great team last year.

Over the course of Jordan’s 13 playoffs, his team averaged 58.38 regular season wins. His opponents, meanwhile, averaged 53.54 wins. Through 24 playoff series in which Jordan’s Bulls were the higher seed, they never lost a series. Essentially, Jordan never blew homecourt advantage in his career.

LeBron, on the other hand, has played on inferior teams than Jordan on an average. His teams averaged 55.44 wins, while his opponents averaged 51.77. Thus, the difference in quality between James’s teams and his opponents is smaller than that in Jordan’s case.

Read the full article at The Sports Rush.

Red Sox hiring Bianca Smith as first Black female pro baseball coach

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Bianca Smith smiles wearing a baseball jersey

Bianca Smith is making baseball history.

The Red Sox are hiring Smith as a minor league coach, according to the Boston Globe.

MLB confirmed to the Globe that Smith will be the first black woman ever to coach baseball at the professional level.

Smith, who most recently was an assistant baseball coach and hitting coordinator at Carroll University (Wisc.,) will primarily work with infielders at the Red Sox’s minor league facility in Fort Meyers, Fla.

“She was a great candidate coming in,” Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett told the Globe. “She’s had some really interesting experiences and has been passionate about growing her skill set and development herself.”

Smith has interned in the baseball operations departments of the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds and worked in amateur administration for MLB. She played softball at Dartmouth from 2010-12 before working as director of baseball operations at Case Western Reserve University from 2013-17 and as an assistant coach with University of Dallas in 2018, according to the Globe.

Smith’s hiring is a barrier-breaker.

“It’s a meaningful, meaningful thing for the organization,” Crockett told the Globe.

The San Francisco Giants made Alyssa Nakken baseball’s first full-time female major league coach earlier this year, promoting her to assistant coach. She became the first woman to coach on-field in an MLB game in July, coaching first base during an exhibition game.

Continue on to The New York Post to read the complete article.

Top CEOs vow to hire 1 million Black Americans

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confident young black man

A group including some of the biggest U.S. companies is launching a nationwide campaign to hire 1 million Black Americans over the next decade, with a goal of economically uplifting communities of color.

The OneTen coalition — which has 37 members and which includes corporate giants such as AT&T, Bank of America, Comcast, Delta, General Motors, IBM, Nike, Merck, Verizon, and Walmart — said they’re specifically interested in Black workers who don’t have a college degree.

“Many times companies require four-year degrees for the kinds of jobs that really do not require a four-year degree,” Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier told CBS This Morning. “We’re trying to urge companies to take a skills-first approach rather than a credentials approach.”

Ginni Rometty, IBM’s executive chairwoman and one of the founders of the group, said companies involved in OneTen are banding together because “we all need talent, and there’s a large talent pool in America we’re not tapping into.”

Continue to the full article at CBS News.

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