It’s the biggest single donation to date for the Year of Boulevard project: fifty grand from the Atlanta Hawks Foundation to go toward updating four city basketball courts in Central Park.
(Yes, Atlanta has a Central Park; it's tucked between Central Parkway and Parkway Drive, bounded by Linden and Angier. You can find it on this map.)
The courts, which are in generally lousy condition now, are one of the few recreational facilities for kids who live on and near the Boulevard corridor, and were used by 800 children and teens enrolled in a citywide basketball program this summer. The courts are also popular for pick-up games year-round. The court refurbishing should be completed by late October.
On Wednesday morning, arena music (“We Will Rock You,” etc.) blasted through Central Park as Kwanza Hall and staff, members of the Hawks Foundation, parks and rec officials, a gaggle of middle-schoolers from Intown Academy, community association officers, and a few curious neighbors, assembled for the official presentation.
After the ceremonial big check had been handed over, and officials made their remarks, Dwayne Holton Jr. addressed the group. A thirteen-year-old at Intown Academy, Dwayne was sponsored for the Boulevard "Summer of Possibility" program by the Atlanta Hawks. “Year of Boulevard has helped the community bring people together, and created opportunities,” Dwayne said. He's participated in Operation P.E.A.C.E. since he was five, and says he learned things like "how to swim, skate, and bowl," as well exploring his heritage through the program's field trips throughout Georgia and to other states. "It helped me become the young man I am today," he said.
Harry the Hawk bounded into the proceedings to help cut down the last net on the old courts. Then the mascot executed impressive trampoline-assisted slam dunks while the Intown Academy kids watched and enjoyed the sunny morning. (“We were allowed to come if we’d had good behavior,” explained seventh grader Amariah Land, who doesn’t play basketball but does play kickball on the nearby fields.)
Fixing the courts seemed like a way to “touch lots of lives,” said Bob Williams, president of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena. “This is one of the largest investments the Foundation has made, but it will go a long way in encouraging physical activity, teaching the youth of today and building the leaders of tomorrow.”
The courts haven’t been refurbished in a decade, and this summer only one court had a backboard, said Clifton Palmer, who along with Marc Barnhill ran the summer program. The 800 participants came from neighborhoods as far-ranging as Chastain, Morningside, Vine City, and English Avenue—as well as nearby Boulevard. “In the summer, the kids don’t have anything to do, their parents are struggling economically, and we are able to offer them something—free—to do,” said Palmer, a former University of Texas point guard. He’s hoping the program can serve 2,000 kids next summer.
As for Dwayne Holton, he’s traded basketball for football. He plays quarterback. He’s also interested in the restaurant and entertainment business, and through Year of Boulevard got an internship at Sound Table restaurant in the Old Fourth Ward. He did everything from helping with food prep to painting the interior ("painted all with black paint"). He tried new foods, including octopus. Although he's interested in cooking, at home, "we're still doing a lot of microwaving,” said his dad, Dwayne Holton, Sr.
A single dad, the senior Holton has worked for the Zep chemical manufacturing company since 1997. Zep makes "just about anything you need to clean," he said. Asked if his father brings his work home, Dwayne Jr. said, "Yes, he cleans the house a lot."