You can catch Taj Gibson nearly every night on national TV as a member of one of the most historic franchises in sports, the New York Knicks. What you will not see mentioned on those telecasts however is the incredibly important work that has been getting done courtesy of The Taj Gibson Foundation. The trail being blazed by Gibson and the foundation will leave its imprint on history and pave the way for generations to come. Tameek Floyd, one of the many directors of The Taj Gibson Foundation and Gibson’s childhood friend, joined me to talk about the amazing things the foundation has already accomplished and the plans they have moving forward.
The primary mission of the Taj Gibson Foundation since its inception in 2010 and official registration as a 501c(3) in 2019, is to inspire the next generation, providing support and mentorship to the youth all around New York City. No one knows how valuable those things are today than the team at The Taj Gibson Foundation. Taj Gibson and Tameek Floyd both grew up in the Ingersoll Housing Projects located in Brooklyn, NY. As youth, they witnessed first hand the turmoil and neglect that plagued their community every single day. Both highly touted national basketball prospects out of high school, Tameek Floyd remembers they had always made a promise to themselves and to those around them. “ We had always said that when we made it to the league that one of the first things we were going to do was come back and support the neighborhood. Bring attention to the issues and the people that have been neglected for too long.” Floyd explains the circumstances that led to his unfortunate drift away from basketball. “Taj obviously has gone on and succeeded tremendously as a basketball player to be able to build this incredible platform and provide these things for the community. I was unable to accomplish the things that he was able to. Whether it was conflict with coaches or expectations, I just had no way to handle the pressure. I ended up making some bad decisions and ended up incarcerated for quite some time. Through it all though, Taj stayed true to our friendship. He never turned his back on me. He came and saw me when he could even though he was breaking into the NBA. I am forever grateful for that.” Rather than fall back into old habits, Floyd realized that his story could be a vital part of the primary mission of The Taj Gibson Foundation. “The contrast between Taj and I’s journey is something every kid we work with can learn from. We can point to Taj who is an example of hard work, discipline, organization and making good, healthy choices and now his status as a professional. Or we can point to me who is an example of making the wrong choices and the consequences it led to. I am beyond happy and grateful to do it because I can be the mentor to so many kids just like I needed at their age.”
Mentorship and sports go hand in hand at The Taj Gibson Foundation. “You can develop so many leadership qualities through sport, especially basketball. We focus on discipline and teamwork. Smart, healthy choices and working together rather than division will always get you further in life and that is one of our biggest focuses when we host our events and workshops.” Remember the Ingersoll Housing Projects that Tameek and Taj grew up in? Recently, Taj and the foundation fully funded a reconstruction of the neighborhood’s basketball courts that had been neglected for over 20 years, bringing more positive resources and camaraderie to the neighborhood that raised them.
Within the past year or so, The Taj Gibson Foundation has also put its hat in the ring for an even bigger fight. “Ever since we were kids, the tensions between our communities and the police have always been high. Given the events and unrest of the past few years, it has reached an all time high, almost a boiling point. We wanted to come together to quell the disconnect between the community, police and everyone else.” The foundation felt one of the biggest issues was trust between the police and the community, so they unlisted some help from the perfect sources. The first place they turned was to the NYPD who were immediately on board in helping whatever way they could. . Perhaps the most powerful partnership they received however was from Mike Tucker. Tucker’s own son was murdered by police in the early 2000’s. Since then, Tucker has been a strong advocate for ending gun violence. In 2005 he founded the “Lay Your Guns Down Foundation” in order to get as much education and awareness out there as possible. Together with Tucker, the Mayor’s Office and the NYPD, the foundation know they are ready to truly make a difference in the world. “The first thing we had to focus on was education. Letting people know like hey we understand your frustration but these officers have a job to do and we need to stop giving them reasons to do their job as well. Having Mike Tucker partner in our mission together with the NYPD and the mayor’s office is a huge step in the right direction to show everyone that peace is possible. We can work together and improve our quality of life tremendously.” The energy was on full display last summer when the foundation and the aforementioned fellow advocates came together for a borough-wide peace walk. “There were people from all walks of life who came together. Police, civilians, white, black, it didn’t matter. We were all human beings who came together for a common purpose. There was no violence, no tensions, no issues. It was exactly what we had envisioned and is exactly why there will be many more of the same event planned for the future.”
The foundation has come such a long way in a short amount of time, impacting and changing lives every single day. Talks are underway for a city-wide “Unity & Community Event” this summer. The event would feature a basketball tournament and concert in each of New York’s five boroughs. The event would be to further drive the foundation’s mission of providing a more unified world for all, but especially those of the future generations. Floyd says “ I live right here in Brooklyn still to this day. I see the way things are around here and the way things affect us. The impact our foundation has made here has been incredible, but there is still so much left to be fixed. We can be proud of the things we have accomplished but never forget that we will have to continuously fight for the betterment of our future. I have to give a special shoutout to the other team members who have made this all possible as well. Gregory Watson, Charles Thompson, Geo Miller and Toi Salter are all vital to the success of the foundation and our mission. Without them and all of our volunteers, donors, partners we would not be able to do the life-changing work we do.” For more information on The Taj Gibson Foundation and how you can get involved or donate, please visit www.tajgibsonfoundation.com