A bright and sunny pre-autumn day silhouetted the shadows of basketball fans lining up last weekend to enter Smith-Hale Middle School. As the smells from a food truck and sounds of laughter filled the parking lot, players inside readied themselves for a South Kansas City showcase.
“We wanted to involve many entities that are directly working with our community,” said AbdulRasheed Yahaya, founder of Local Legends Gaming and one of the two entrepreneur organizers of the annual Play It Forward charity basketball event. “From our DJs to our hosts to our vendors. People are working hard in our community.”
“We don’t charge any of our vendors to be vendors,” he added. “Entrepreneurship is hard enough as it is. If we can give them the opportunity to grow, they too will improve the community.”
Now in its second year, the game benefits the Hickman Mills (HMC 1) School District’s school supplies fund and pits Yahaya, a Ruskin High School alum, against Hickman veteran Mark Launiu, co-founder of MADE MOBB and the other organizer of the event.
“We have a passion to give back to the city through athletics,” said Yahaya.
“This is our stomping grounds,” Launiu added.
Click here to read more about the origins of Play It Forward.
Both organizers are also co-founders of The Distrikc, an initiative led by black entrepreneurs to effect real change from within their own communities. Play It Forward preceded that effort but echoes its goals.
“If we can use our experiences to alleviate [longstanding South Kansas City challenges], that would go a long way in helping others,” said Yahaya.
Working with the financially strapped, but “incredibly cooperative” Hickman Mills district has been key, the organizers said. Admission and T-shirt sales at the event, as well as general donations, are tallied and used to provide classroom or related school items to students who lack them, Yahaya said.
“So when the young ones don’t have supplies, they can go to the office and say, ‘I don’t have this.’ Then they can be supplied with things like backpacks,” he said.
Room for a larger team
With a hip hop DJ performing throughout the game, Play It Forward featured a number of surprises that made the event far from a gimmick, its organizers said. Former college players, startup leaders like Healthy Hip Hop’s Roy Scott, and even celebrity WNBA player and national champion Tyra White joined in the action.
Launiu’s MADE MOBB squad — which boasted White — ultimately defeated Yahaya’s Local Legends Gaming team 62-50.
“They had better players, but we had better coaching,” Launiu joked.
The duo hopes to continue the charity basketball tradition into 2020 and beyond — perhaps with a few changes, they said.
“Professional refs?” Yahaya said, ribbing Launiu after the game. “There is always room for improvement. We want to tie in more nonprofits. Some that are really into the community.”
While the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Mid-Continent Public Library were among the vendors at the event, Yahaya and Launiu see opportunity to grow the event — and its impact — with support from other entrepreneurs and support organizations, they said.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.