There has never been a major city in the United States that’s enjoyed a longer run as America’s “Black Mecca” than Atlanta.
It’s been more than 40 years since the city had a mayor that wasn’t Black.
“This here is Wakanda. It’s sacred. Must be protected,” rapper T.I. infamously said last month during a press conference that was held to quell rioting after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
And while the quote was hilarious, it demonstrated how many Black Americans view Atlanta. This is why it’s so frustrating that the city belongs to a state that’s become the biggest example of voter suppression.
But, the city’s basketball team is trying to change that.
The Atlanta Hawks have been allowed to turn State Farm Arena into a polling station for the state’s upcoming primary runoff election on Aug. 11, and for early voting for the general election scheduled for Nov. 3. According to reports, 2.1 million people participated in early voting in Georgia’s 2018 midterm election.
“We were casually brainstorming since our whole world turned about what we can do internally as an organization,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce told ESPN. “We were trying to figure out how we can take care of home first, and [CEO Steve Koonin] pitched the idea.”
State Farm Arena is located in a very Black area of Atlanta, despite the gentrification that is taking place around it. Having a polling place of that size is a game changer, as the building has an interior of 680,000 square feet where it’s expected that several hundred voting machines will be set up.
The decision by the Hawks is a godsend, given what took place in the Georgia Primary election earlier this month. According to The Atlantic, due to the closing of two nearby polling locations, voters in the Midtown area of the city were forced to vote at Park Tavern, a restaurant in Piedmont Park, as it became the polling place for 16,000 people to vote. Some waited in line for more than three hours, while others just gave up and left. And due to coronavirus, more than 80 voting locations were closed or consolidated in the Metro Atlanta area, as new-state orders voting machines were useless.
Leah Aden, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told The Atlantic that on average, Black voters wait 45 minutes longer to vote than white voters, while Latino voters have to wait 46 minutes longer in America.
Georgia became the face of voter suppression in 2018 due to its gubernatorial race when current Republican Governor Brian Kemp waited until the last moments of the race to step down from his position as Secretary of State, which put him in charge of overseeing state elections. His Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams was trying to become the first Black female governor in American history.
Kemp flagged some 53,000 voter registration applications due to the state’s “exact match” law, which requires that Georgians submit information identical to that on file with the Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration. Something as simple as a hyphen or a misplaced accent mark can be enough to put a voter on the hold list. According to The Associated Press, back in 2018, 70 percent of the voters that were put on the list were Black. Between 2012 and 2017, Kemp was accused of purging millions of voter registrations.
On Election Day in 2018, it was reported that hundreds of voting machines went unused as they sat in a government warehouse. And according to election officials, the lack of voting machines and high voter turnout led to some of the longest lines in years at the polls.
“When we saw what we saw on June 9, it was extremely clear that we have a real issue in the state of Georgia and especially here in Atlanta,” said Pierce. “And we felt we had an opportunity to do something special. It was encouraging that we were able to think outside of the box and speak this idea into existence.”
As conversations about how the NBA and players will address racial and social issues during its “scheduled” restart next month in Orlando, it’s great to see that at least one team is using this moment to effect change that addresses the evils of the past and the potential positives of the future.