The project shifting the narrative around hoop culture and the diaspora
Introducing, Jump Ball.
A series for the culture — by the culture. The project uses visual stories to display the intersection of basketball, fashion, and various ethnic influences. Jump Ball presents the common thread these important facets have in connection to the diaspora. Produced by Sunday School Creative, Jump Ball highlights an experience through a cultural lens, showing the common characteristics between the game and those that love the game.
Jump Ball explores the unique relationship between the game of basketball and the African Diaspora, particularly in North America. In its first installment of this series, Sunday School, in collaboration with photographer O’Shane Howard, produced a visually compelling series speaking to the blend of cultures between African-Canadians growing up with an influence from Westernized basketball culture. The individuals are showcased in native garbs, embodying the traditions they carry. The story re-imagines the basketball court in which many of these athletes grew up playing by capturing them in empowering positions, juxtaposed against the housing complexes behind them. The game of basketball has a powerful ability to connect people irrespective of cultural differences, especially in a city as diverse as Toronto.
The second installment is focused on Harlem, NY the epicenter of the basketball Mecca and home to some of the most famous courts in the world. This installment highlights the presence and unity of the African diaspora within these neighborhoods. The extremely rich basketball heritage birthed in Harlem has contributed greatly to the game at every level. Additionally, African culture continues to mesh with basketball culture in such an organic way. The proximity of the Kingdome basketball court to the Malcolm Shabazz African Market epitomizes the connection between both influences. Many kids that grow up in the neighborhood playing ball, also grow up in the market in which their families operate.
From the Orlando Magic’s Mo Bamba to UConn’s Batouly Camara, and even rapper Sheck Wes, Harlem’s African diaspora is making rapid strides. However, beyond the game of basketball lies a dynamic intersection of people and histories that reside in Harlem.
Batouly “Tooly” Camara, a true Uptown hooper and community activist, sat with Sunday School to share some of her own experiences. She currently plays for the University of Connecticut (UCONN) women’s basketball team, as well as the Guinea national team. The moment you meet Batouly you feel her radiant personality and connection to Harlem. The grace in which she energizes her community cannot go without notice.
“Whenever I walk through the market (Malcolm Shabazz Market), I know I can get a meal, support, and my aunt praying for me” — Batouly Camara
Walking through the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market makes you feel like you are part of one big family. The market is vibrant with items from various African nations being sold, foot traffic of locals and newcomers, while different languages are being spoken. Batouly greets everyone with a hug, smile, and “hey Auntie” or “hey Uncle”. This same pride and respect she shows here is something that is found in New York City basketball. Paying homage to elders and tradition is important across all cultures. Anytime Batouly steps out, she does so in a way that represents the wonderful name she has built for herself.
The concept of bridging the African diaspora is often overcomplicated. Batouly is someone that does this effectively through her presence on the court and work in the community. She is an advocate for community development and service. Following Batouly from the United States can introduce one to unique African cultures, while watching Batouly from her home country Guinea can introduce one to the diversity in New York City. One commonality is that following Batouly, in general, speaks to the purpose of building a strong community for those to come.
Hamza “Hums” Sarr, a multi-hyphenated creative and key member of the Harlem instalment, shared his experiences growing up in the neighborhood as a first-generation American of Senegalese and Gambian descent.
Like many first-generation Americans, he had to find comfort in the many facets of his identity growing up. The beauty of Hamza’s story derives from the fact that he was never “stellar” at basketball. He was never scouted, nor destined for the league. He played for the love of the game, community, and joy. This is basketball culture, it is not about making it to the league, instead, it is about the connectivity of the game. Whether one is hooping recreationally, watching pick-up games, playing NBA 2K, or just sporting the fashion, they are a member of this beautiful community. The game opens doors and allows individuals to explore themselves and the world differently. Basketball is a strong identifier for many in the African diaspora, Hamza included.
“If you’re nice (basketball), you’re nice. Nothing else matters on the court.” — Hamza Sarr
Batouly and Hamza are as Harlem as it gets, you can hear it immediately when they speak. They take pride in their roots, and the courts they grew up playing on. These spaces were integral experiences in both their upbringings. This is not to dismiss their Guinean, Gambian, and Senegalese heritage; but to showcase the love for all the communities they are a part of.
Basketball, specifically in Harlem, has a unique language that in many ways is similar to African cultures. It is bold, energetic, confident and familial; traits that are reflected across the diaspora through clothing, faith, music, food and style.
Neighborhood courts mean many things to many people — a place of refuge and respite, friendship, enjoyment, and even a fashion show for some. One thing it has always been is a place of unity. Basketball culture is Black culture and Black culture is related to African culture; the three are closely connected. The world will continue to observe the growth of basketball on the African continent.
As time progresses, people will come to learn of more Mo Bambas, Batouly Camaras, Hamza Sarrs, and other young sensations in the diaspora straddling both worlds. Above all, these stories provide major inspiration for young kids and hoopers across the globe.
“When they make it, we all make it.” — Batouly Camara
Written by Fetti Alyi, Malik Sulieman, Josef Adamu, and Andrew Somuah.
This a Sunday School production.
Directed by: Josef Adamu
Photography by: Joshua Kissi
Produced by: Josef Adamu, Malik Sulieman, Andrew Somuah
BTS Photography by: Fela Raymond
Videography by: Emmanuel Afolabi
Casting by: Hamza Sarr
Assisted by: Kwame Kissi, Rahilou Diallo
Special Thanks to: Chace Johnson, Stanley Lumax