(AllHipHop Lifestyle) Since the inception of the Atlanta Entertainment Basketball League, Atlanta has evolved into a city with a vast economic divide. In 2015, Business Insider called the city “the most unequal city in America.” The heavily gentrified downtown has caused Rawlings to shift his focus to a new underserved community.
Jahi Rawlings founded AEBL in 2013 to provide an opportunity to bring the character building elements of good sportsmanship and teamwork in playing basketball directly to the disenfranchised Atlanta neighborhood, the city’s Westside.
In its fifth season, AEBL games will take place at Kipp Atlanta Collegiate High School, a charter school on the west side of the city. The school is in a neighborhood with multiple elementary and middle schools, as well as a large population of single-parent or grandparent-led households. AEBL provides exciting weekends in a safe environment for the youth that’s filled with entertainment and the joy of watching basketball as they interact with positive black male role models.
The NBA season ends in early June when students are getting out of school for the summer, and they are met by a dearth of constructive activities with plenty of time on their hands. AEBL games take place on Saturday and Sunday and are free, and children are given access to events that offer free live basketball and music entertainment. AEBL games are announced by Bria Janelle, the only female On Court Announcer in Pro-Am Basketball.
Since 2013, attendance grew from a couple hundred people to a range of 1,500 to 2,000 every weekend. AEBL games feature twelve teams of professional, college, street-ballers, and high school players. Games take place amid fan-friendly entertainment to include musical performances. The 12 teams are sponsored by artists from Atlanta’s hip-hop community including: Think It’s a Game Entertainment, Goodlife Music Group, and Street Execs. In early July, AEBL players will travel to Paris to compete in Quai54, the largest outdoor streetball tournament in the world.
“The AEBL’s strongest asset is our relationship with the community,” Rawlings explains. In addition to the games, the Atlanta Entertainment Basketball League also hosts a variety of key community impact events: Season Kick-Off Block Party, sponsored summer camps and basketball clinics, as well as a back- to-school backpack giveaway.
Additionally, the AEBL signature charity basketball game branded with the hashtag #Hoop4ACause gathers thousands of toys and household items for less-fortunate families in Atlanta families during the year-end holiday season. The list of special guests and players at AEBL games include NBA stars Dwight Howard, Lou Williams and Paul Millsap, rapper and Atlanta native 2 Chainz, Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton stopped by. Many more have supported the program via guest appearances and participation in basketball games.
Through entertainment industry relationships and corporate sponsorships, Rawlings has grown and positioned AEBL to be one of the most successful programs in the country. AEBL recently closed an exclusive, multi-year apparel partnership. AEBL has partnered with Atlanta radio station – Streetz 94.5, Nike, Mountain Dew and Kroger. To assist in the growth of the program, Nike provides AEBL with uniforms and sports products.
“I think our partner brands recognize Atlanta’s cultural impact on the world,” Rawlings explains, “The AEBL has been able to tap into the community and the people.”
About the author: Biba Adams is a NYC-based writer. Her work has been featured in Ebony Magazine, Jezebel, and AllHIpHop.com. Follow her on social media @BibatheDiva