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.
The Ressler Gertz Family Foundation has committed to contributing $5 million to the Herman J. Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE), the largest non-profit center for Black entrepreneurs in the nation, to expand its reach and provide financial support to local Black-owned businesses through increased access, opportunity and exposure as well as expanding future RCIE programming. The gift will also increase RCIE’s ability to provide Black entrepreneurs access to corporate partners and capital as well as utilization of all Hawks marketing channels. Founded in 2019 by the iconic Russell Family, which includes H.J. Russell & Co. (the largest minority-owned real estate and construction company in the U.S.) and Concessions International LLC (the largest Black-owned airport concessions company in the U.S.), RCIE presents entrepreneurs and small businesses an unparalleled offering of educational, mentoring, networking and capital resources to create Black-owned businesses that fuel the local economy and to generate sustainable wealth. Senior level Hawks executives will provide regular mentorship and education to entrepreneurs in RCIE programs.
Located on the city’s Westside and bordering the Atlanta University Center (the largest association of Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs), RCIE aims to create 2,000 jobs in Atlanta, develop 250 new startup companies, provide resources to 700 existing business in order to grow their companies by five to 10 employees and increase Black household wealth in greater Atlanta by over $70 million during the next five years. Atlanta ranks among the lowest cities in the U.S. for economic mobility for Black people, which underscores the pertinence and relevance of RCIE’s efforts to serve as catalyst for change.
“Located in the heart of Atlanta and founded by one of Atlanta’s most successful, entrepreneurial families, RCIE is one of the most innovative organizations that is providing real solutions for Atlanta’s Black community and contributing directly to the growth of Black businesses, jobs, and wealth. Systemic barriers have prevented the Black community from pursuing the educational, employment, and business opportunities necessary to fully contribute to and benefit from our growing local economy,” said Mr. Ressler. “Jami and I take our responsibility as owners of a professional sport franchise in the great city of Atlanta very seriously – and with that responsibility is a commitment to devote resources to organizations that are making tangible, impactful change. In my career, I have built and supported many businesses, and I believe that the access to mentors and capital, opportunity to market products and services, and exposure to customers that RCIE provides is invaluable to the growth of the Black business community in Atlanta. We look forward to adding our resources, connections and platform to this brilliant organization and its mission.”
“Forging pathways to equitable opportunities that help create and accelerate Black-owned businesses across our nation matters more than ever before. That’s why the partnership between the Ressler Gertz Family Foundation and Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is momentous,” said H. Jerome Russell, President of H. J. Russell & Company and Chairman of RCIE. “We are bringing a relationship that incubated 50 years ago with my father Herman J. Russell, as an initial owner of the Atlanta Hawks, to a progressive platform – where the relationship between the Hawks’ current principal owners and Atlanta’s leading Black business and civic family will help amplify, advocate and activate Black economic empowerment through entrepreneurship. We are incredibly grateful for Tony, Jami and the Hawks’ generous donation and contributions as they come alongside our efforts to realize an exponential impact in Black prosperity.”
In partnership with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) to support greater economic empowerment in the Black community, the Hawks Foundation pledged $10 million to the new NBA Foundation. Launched in August, the NBA Foundation will work directly with all 30 teams, affiliated charitable organizations and the NBPA to support national organizations and those within the city of Atlanta to facilitate sustainable programming and create positive change locally. Mr. Ressler is one of eight members of the Board of Directors, which will oversee all business affairs and provide strategic direction for the foundation.
As part of its commitment to be a civic asset, the Hawks were the first team in professional sports to hire a Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. Now under the leadership of Hawks & State Farm Arena Chief People, Diversity & Inclusion Officer Camye Mackey, the team recently announced plans to grow its commitment over the next decade with a $11 million investment, including hiring a newly-created VP of D&I Programming position to expand on its current award-winning programming. The Hawks launched a Diversity & Inclusion Council in 2015 to strength its ties within the community, created MOSAIC (Model of Shaping Atlanta through Inclusive Conversations) bringing together more than 300 influential Atlanta residents to network on the role sports leaders play in diversity, have become an annual participant in the city’s PRIDE Parade and were one of the first NBA teams to build a sensory-inclusive room inside of their venue.
Internally, the D&I team has overseen the Hawks WIN (Women’s Inclusion Network), worked to ensure supplier diversity and hosts the popular series “Courageous Conversations”, an internal forum for employees to freely discuss current events and issues shaping our city and nation.
These efforts have been nationally recognized, including the Hawks receiving the 2019 NBA Inclusion Leadership Award, which recognizes a team’s commitment to inclusion as a key business strategy, as part of the NBA’s most recent annual Team Sales & Marketing awards ceremony.
With a commitment to providing safe spaces and services for under-resourced communities, the franchise has increased its commitment to community programming by enhancing current programs, partnerships and donations with a minimum of $14 million over the next decade. State Farm, the naming rights partner of the arena, will expand its Good Neighbor Club program, which transforms rooms in the recreation centers attached to renovated courts. The clubs serve as comprehensive learning and entertainment hubs for the community and are an extension of the team’s ongoing court renovation program to increase access to play throughout the Atlanta metro area.
Additionally, the Hawks work closely with Boys & Girls Clubs throughout the state of Georgia and the Atlanta Public School (APS) system to sponsor a number of programs that assist children and young adults with maintaining their physical activity level. The team supplied 500 branded basketball kits to Boys & Girls Clubs in-state when they launched their ‘Hawks at Home’ program during the summer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This innovative online program provides unprecedented access to basketball instruction, health tips and education resources in a safe, fun and virtual environment. Just this month, the Hawks and APS partnered to provide a weekly Hawks at Home program as a resource for teachers, coaches and students that focuses on both health and wellness.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ressler Gertz Family Foundation and Hawks Foundation have shown their unwavering commitment to the community and to positively impacting the lives of those in under-resourced communities or in need:
- The Atlanta Hawks, the Hawks Foundation and State Farm teamed up with Goodr, an Atlanta-based social impact startup leveraging technology to reduce food waste and end hunger, to combat food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis for the most vulnerable populations: senior citizens and low-income students who rely on subsidized school meals for daily nourishment. Ten pop-up grocery stores supplied two weeks of groceries for thousands in underserved areas of the city equating to more than 250,000 meals.
- The Hawks Foundation also donated to Sharecare’s “Shots for Heroes” initiative, which provided immunity-boosting juice shots to local healthcare workers and first responders fighting the impact of COVID-19 in Atlanta from the frontlines. Sharecare, the Atlanta-based digital health company that serves as the team’s inaugural jersey patch partner, delivered thousands of super juice shots from Kale Me Crazy to these everyday heroes at Emory University Hospital Midtown, Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital, Grady Memorial Hospital, Northside Hospital, WellStar Cobb Hospital, WellStar Kennestone Hospital, Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, WellStar Atlanta Medical Center and the Atlanta Police Department headquarters.
- The Atlanta Hawks, through the Hawks Foundation and State Farm, provided meals for the frontline workers treating COVID-19 patients at Emory Healthcare through an innovative multi-week meal program that also supported the Atlanta restaurant community by allowing local well-known restaurants to re-employ workers who were laid off or furloughed due to the financial effects of the COVID-19 situation.
- Fulton County partnered with the Atlanta Hawks to create Georgia’s largest-ever voting precinct at State Farm Arena. The unique partnership has allowed tens of thousands of voters to cast their ballots for upcoming elections while maintaining CDC-recommended social distancing requirements at the state-of-the-art facility.