ABOVE PHOTO: Working hard to keep a legacy alive and passing it to the next generation! (left to right; Rev. Mike Major, Shani Newton, Victor Young, Mable Ellis Welborn, Howard H Sullivan and below center Mr. Jim Davis) Leon H. Sullivan Community Hoops & Conference takes place June 23-25 www.sullivanhoops.org. (Photo courtesy: Leon H. Sullivan Community Hoops Conference)
By Kharisma McIlwaine
Philadelphia native and businesswoman Shani Newton is an entrepreneur known for her philanthropic endeavors. When she’s not spending time cultivating her clothing line at Dolly’s Boutique and Consignment Shop, she is usually volunteering at her church. As a life long member of Zion Baptist Church, Newton is no stranger to the work ethic, integrity, or responsiblities to her community that was instilled in her and fellow congregants by Zion’s legendary leader, the late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan. Sullivan, known as “The Lion of Zion”, was dedicated to helping the youth, one way through sports. Newton continues Rev. Sullivan’s legacy with the 3rd Annual Leon H. Sullivan Community Hoops & Conference on June 23-25.
Zion Baptist Church’s long history of sports centers around their well-established basketball league. For more than 40 years, the league had produced talents including Dawn Staley, Aaron McKie, and Rasheed Wallace. The league had to disband in the early 2000’s due to lack of finances and much needed gym repairs. In 2014, Zion received a grant from former NBA player Kevin Smith. With the grant, Zion’s basketball court was given a second chance, and Newton was inspired to create the Leon H. Sullivan Community Hoops & Conference. Newton stated, “In 2015, it was born.
We teamed up with the Leon Sullivan CDC, and they were excited about the opportunity. We financed it ourselves, we didn’t have any sponsorship. Myself and four other people self-financed the Conference so we could make it free for the neighborhood to experience. We were able to cover all expenses including food within year one.”
The 2015 event hosted over 250 participants daily. Now with the help of sponsors like Albert Einstein Medical Center, Keystone First, The Laborer’s District Council, Cardex Inc. and many more, the 2017 participation has nearly doubled to 450. Newton shared her thoughts on making this event free and accessible to the community. “Usually conferences of this magnitude have costs to them, and that immediately eliminates the element for certain people to be able to attend,” Newton said. Most people, especially in underserved areas, can’t afford to pay $100 or $200 for a conference. We really wanted this conference to touch as many people and families as possible in Nicetown, North Philadelphia, and in other communities throughout Philadelphia.”
Newton credits the success of this program to people who have donated their time and energy to giving back. “We have people come back to support and participate in the conference and to help with the children… people who are alumni of the program, will credit it with keeping them off the streets and out of gangs,” she said.
The full weekend of activities includes basketball games, all-star clinics, celebrity meet and greets, workshops, breakfast, lunch and more. Newton continues to use basketball and this Conference as a conduit to a much larger purpose. “It’s really important to understand that we are using sports, but it’s so much more than sports. We’re using sports to empower a community. Sometimes you have to reach these young people exactly where they are,” she said. Former guests of the conference include former NBA star Rasheed Wallace, NBA first round draft picks, the Morris twins, and sports journalist Stephen A. Smith.
This year will feature some returning familiar faces as well as surprise guests. Whether you’re a great basketball player or just getting started, all are welcome and encouraged to participate. The Leon H. Sullivan Community Hoops & Conference will take place at Zion Baptist Church located at 3600 N. Broad Street on June 23rd-25th. Registration is open until the slots are filled but spaces are limited!
For additional information and to register visit www.sullivanhoops.org or call (215) 668-5221.