Fundraiser basketball game to help Tacoma youths taste academic life

Michael Hankins’ motto is, “I go hard for education.”

Turns out he goes pretty hard for basketball, too.

“Basketball brings everybody together, doesn’t matter gender, age, race,” said the 42-year-old Tacoma man. “It brings everybody out. It’s a chance to network, to make new friends and socialize and have a great time.”

Hankins is the founder of the education and mentorship nonprofit MOCHA — Motivating Our Children 2 Honor Academics — which works with young African-American men in Tacoma.

For the past 15 years, he’s sponsored an all-star basketball game as a fundraiser for MOCHA, using the money to send local young black men around the country to symposiums, conferences and colleges.

On Sunday, the all-star power for this year’s game will be a little brighter:

▪ Seattle Supersonics icon Slick Watts will coach the players.

▪ Former Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers cornerback Joey Thomas will talk with the players before the event.

▪ Freddie Brown Jr., son of the Sonics’ “Downtown” Freddie Brown, will referee the game.

The players in the all-star game are eighth-graders from the Seattle, Tacoma and Portland areas.

Hankins and his team attend tournaments throughout the season and note the best players. At the end of the season, he connects with the players, their coaches and parents to bring them to the Tacoma game.

All participants play for free. Admission proceeds will go toward sending a group of middle schoolers from MOCHA to the 17th annual Youth Empowerment Conference at Stanford University in April.

In November, MOCHA sent middle and high school students to Morehouse College, an all-male black college in Atlanta.

Finding opportunities in education is a primary goal of MOCHA and started with Hankins’ own story.

A self-described “troubled teen” in Tacoma, Hankins found himself in court when he was 17.

“The judge gave me an ultimatum: prison or college,” he recalled.

So to college he went, attending Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.

“Going to college really opened up my eyes as a young black male and how I need to bring those experiences back to my community,” Hankins said. “And so I thought through basketball I could help kids excel in another part of life and maximize their potential.”

Hankins is hoping for a big crowd Sunday.

“It’s all about having fun, and it’s all about education,” he said. “And I think Freddie Brown Jr. might have a special surprise for the kids.”

If you go

Where: People’s Community Center, 1602 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma.

When: Sunday. Doors will open at 4:30 p.m., event will begin at 5 p.m.

Cost: $7 for adults, free for kids.