Weeks before a 1,000 basketball fans, community leaders and local supporters flocked to the Xavier University of Louisiana Convocation Center on a Thursday evening in New Orleans, Percy "Master P" Miller stood moved.
It was early June when the hip hop mogul and No Limit Records founder learned about the passing of a 7-year old boy in Louisville, Kentucky, Dequante Hobbs, Jr., who was struck by a stray bullet and died in late May. It was then that the New Orleans native and father of seven felt compelled to reach out to the family to provide some solace and hope.
That feeling came to life as part of Master P's NOLA Celebrity Basketball Game at the 2017 Essence Festival on June 29th, which tipped-off with a peace rally prior to the game aptly named, The National Day of Peace. The goal: to raise community awareness about violence plaguing a number of inner cities around the US including New Orleans. In an event that featured Silkk The Shocker, Mystikal, Juvenile, Dallas Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers, former NFL wide receiver Jacoby Jones, former NBA players Caron Butler and Ben Gordon among a host of other athletes and celebrities, it was Master P's own son -- musician and actor, Romeo Miller -- who honored young Dequante by wearing the red and black number 7 jersey as a tribute.
This was a proud moment for everyone at Wooter Apparel, who teamed up with Master P to outfit players and coaches on the court with jerseys and gear for his NOLA Celebrity Basketball Game.
This was more than just another charity event.
The game served as a valuable reminder of how communities can come together for the greater good of investing back into its youth, as proceeds from the contest went to benefit the scholarship fund of Team H.O.P.E. NOLA.
Late last year, Master P and New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Robert Pack launched Team H.O.P.E. NOLA (Helping Our Players Excel) as a way to help at-risk youth in New Orleans and provide them with the resources and information to keep them off of the streets, succeed on the court and more importantly in the classroom. The 20 players selected to take part in the Team H.O.P.E. NOLA program range from age 12 to 15 years old and are selected from area schools. By the end of the program, the players will be equipped to make educated decisions and choices as they prepare for college, careers, and hopefully opportunities to one day be mentors or community leaders themselves.
Since then, Team H.O.P.E. NOLA has remained active in their community, from helping raise donations, to assisting at senior centers and sharing their message about focusing on education and overcoming obstacles in life.
Both Master P and Coach Pack know how important mentorship and leadership is, on and off of the court. The two grew up together in New Orleans and played on the same AAU squad, long before Pack played 13-years in the NBA and Miller rapped his way to stardom and launched his own record label.
Now, the two life-long friends are focused on giving back and paying it forward with Team H.O.P.E. NOLA, with the 2017 Essence Festival and Master P's celebrity game yet another example of how change and hope truly starts at home.