3rd Annual Advancement of Blacks in Sports Champions and Legends Weekend Debuts in the DMV

On this special edition of “Listen In With KNN” host and executive producer Kelsey Nicole Nelson, welcomed an unheralded legend in the world of grassroots basketball, special guest Gary Charles to the show. Charles is the CEO and Founder of Advancement of Blacks in Sports (ABIS). 

Charles founded ABIS to increase racial equity in collegiate and professional athletics.While the organization has had a large footprint in Las Vegas, this year ABIS is moving operations to the DMV for the 3rd Annual ABIS Champions and Legends weekend. It will be held May 31 through June 2 at MGM National Harbor Hotel and Casino, in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Charles previewed the upcoming Champions and Legends weekend event sharing its significance. “We started the ABIS organization after the death of George Flyod. I got together with people I knew in the sports world to put this organization together. People like Dawn Staley, Coach Vivian Stringer, and Dave Leitao were big parts of the start of this organization,” he said. 

Charles shared these individuals helped with supporting the idea of showcasing Black individuals in sports and why it was important to have the event. “Too many people do not know what we [Black Americans] have done in the sports world. This event showcases that. We had it in Vegas because we thought that people would want to fly in and have a vacation.”  

The three-day event includes panels with special guest speakers and a special awards ceremony. Nelson asked Charles about the selection process for the awardees. “Every year, we have a committee that votes on who should be honored every year. We can’t honor everyone in one year, we got to space it out. I might give a list, others will give a list and we vote on who should be awarded,” he said. He also touched on the awards not going to a sports individual all the time but someone who represents social justice and Black evolution within communities. 

Nelson shared her excitement of ABIS honoring great women like Lonnie Ali, Mohammed Ali’s wife, who is getting honored with the ABIS Lifetime Achievement Award. 

“We want to make sure people are aware of what Black sports excellence looks like and she is the perfect person. People don’t realize how much she has done. Just as much as men influenced sports, so have women but they just don’t get the credit for it,” he said.

Charles shared the event will also be honoring the 1982 Cheyney University Lady Wolves basketball team, which is the first and only HBCU to compete in the Final Four and national championship in women’s college basketball history. Charles shared how the majority of members from that team will be in attendance.  “There will be a total of eight of them in attendance. This one might be the closest one to my heart because I was at Cheyney when they were playing. I remember that. I remember walking up to the gym for the first time,” he said. 

Speaking on his journey to Cheyney, Charles grew up in Roosevelt, Long Island (NY).“I actually grew up with Eddie Murphy, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Dr. J who was years older than us, but it was a close unit town. You knew everybody,” he said. “By the tenth grade, my mother transferred me to a 99% all-white school. After that experience for a couple of years there, I felt the need to be closer to my people. There was no disrespect to them but that’s what I wanted,” he said. 

Charles described his experience  going to his first college fair. 

“At the fair, I saw the booth for Cheyney. I noticed because the year before, the men’s team had just won the Division II national championship. There were a bunch of young ladies saying that they were going to Cheyney next year and when I heard that, I told myself I was going there too and just like that I was there,” he said. Charles shared with Nelson that coach John Chaney was his physical education professor.

After college at Cheyney, Charles created the Long Island Panthers, a grassroots basketball program while working as a systems programmer on Wall Street. The Panthers basketball program produced many NBA players like Lamar Odom, Wally  Szczerbiak, and Joakim Noah. Charles’ continued work producing ball players interested legendary former sneaker executive Sonny Vaccaro, who signed Michael Jordan to his first shoe deal. Another big deal Vaccaro made is signing the Panthers to a shoe deal, making the Panthers the first grassroots program to receive this honor. 

Tickets for the upcoming event weekend can be purchased here.

Jasmine Pollock