BLANKET INJUSTICE–From left: John Bettis, Marcus Robinson, Bill Neal, Tim Stevens, Ed Gainey and Austin Davis. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
An Aug. 12 press conference quickly turned into a sweeping indictment of the mainstream media’s portrayal of the Black community when Black community leaders met at the Thelma Lovette YMCA in the Hill District to show their support for the 38th Annual Connie Hawkins Basketball League “Summer Slam.”
“I’m tired of the entire Black community being painted with the same brush,” said Bill Neal, CEO of Champion Enterprises, host of the annual basketball game. “I’m tired of the Black community being painted as a war zone. We as Black leaders need to challenge that.”
Bill Neal (Photo by J.L. Martello)
For the past 38 years, Neal’s organization has hosted a number of basketball-oriented youth programs. The upcoming event, set for Aug. 17, brings together youth, adults and professional players for a day of basketball games.
But Neal doesn’t think the mainstream media will be there to see it. Instead he believes they only show African-Americans when there’s violence involved, something he admits happens far too often. He called on local stations WTAE, WPXI, and KDKA, in particular, to cover more positive events in the Black community.
“There are good hard working families raising their kids in our communities,” Neal said. “The White communities get a bad perception of who we are and it’s a blanket injustice to the Black community.”
At the press conference, Neal sat with a group of Black men, those traditionally vilified most by the media. When Neal needed support to ensure his program would see another year, it was these men who stepped up, he said.
“We believe in the work he’s done for 38 years. This event he’s announcing today is something we should be proud of,” said Tim Steven, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project and co-convener of the Coalition Against Violence. “We’re asking everyone to give him the support he needs so that he can continue to take these kids out of bad situations and put them in good ones.”
The event’s lead sponsor is Chuck Sanders Charities, represented at the press conference by John Bettis, who will be playing against Champion Enterprises at the tournament on Saturday. Other supporters include, State Rep. Ed Gainey, Attorney Milton Raiford, Judge Dwayne Woodruff and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who was represented by Austin Davis at the press conference.
“I believe we focus too much on violence. The key is how do we develop youth programs to give kids a way out,” Gainey said. “The more we get the word out about youth development the more we detract from violence.”
Twenty-five-year-old Marcus Robinson has seen the benefit of Champion Enterprises and youth programs like it firsthand. After playing in the Connie Hawkins League during his youth, he’s gone on to graduate from Point Park University, and now owns the Pittsburgh Bullets, a local basketball team.
“Unfortunately my peers are the ones who are committing the crimes because they have nothing to do,” Robinson said. “Basketball taught me discipline and commitment. You have to stay out of trouble in order to play the game.”
For more information on the Connie Hawkins League email 5StarCampions@gmail.com.