It was a late Sunday night and Stephania Ergemlidze was sitting in her Philadelphia apartment watching the protests going on in her hometown and wanted to find a way to help. As she paced back and forth in her living room, a thought suddenly crossed her mind.
“Maybe I should take the hoop out of retirement,” Ergemlidze said. “Let’s try to bring some light to what is a serious topic and try to ease the tension.”
With no particular direction, Stephania dragged her hand-crafted portable hoop into City Center with hopes to once again unite her city through basketball. Joined by her friends, Khalil Gardner and Jaquill Shackelford, the trio rallied the locals of Philly with the energy that the round ball brings.
Before Ballin For Justice went viral, she had second thoughts on her initiative. The Fairmount native felt indifferent that her idea would serve as a distraction rather than a unifier.
“I didn’t know how people were going to take it,” the 26-year old said. “I didn’t know what the outcome would be. I was hoping that it would be perceived for what I intended it to be. Then we started doing it and I wasn’t nervous anymore.”
With COVID-19 still sweeping the nation and no live basketball to enjoy, Ergemildze felt that her hoop could help to fill the void. Ballin For Justice has gathered many people in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Minnesota.
“Everybody was warning me before I left, it’s going to be really dangerous in Minneapolis,” Ergemildze said. “We got out there and it was actually a beautiful experience because the community was already trying to heal and bring itself together. We just got a chance to join in on that. They had this big barbeque and everybody was together and at [George Floyd’s] memorial. We set up our hoop there and it was a really cool experience.”
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A post shared by Stephania Ergemlidze (@stephaniae) on Jun 6, 2020 at 7:20pm PDT
Ergemilidze spent years working in her family’s home and decoration business, where she did everything from creating pottery to selling decor. She learned a ton of skills while working with her parents but dreams of running her own business. Ultimately, she took the leap in 2018.
“I wanted to start up my own page, but without having a voice it’s very difficult to actually create real change,” Ergermilidze said. “I had to have a voice that people listen to, so I started making content. I saw that people liked my basketball videos, so that was the easiest way to make content. Doing something I already knew how to do and that I loved to do.”
The movement took off in 2019.
Under her @Basketball handle, she used her portable hoop to gather content and play one-on-one with people from Times Square to The National Mall. On her first day out with her friends, she met one of Philadelphia’s finest, Meek Mill, to kick off her project.
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A post shared by Stephania Ergemlidze (@stephaniae) on Jul 29, 2019 at 8:47am PDT
“He got out and his cousin played me and it was something I enjoyed doing,” said the Philadelphia native. “I loved how it worked and the experience that I had. I saw how happy it made people and it did bring people together. Everybody was stopping watching or trying to play or cheering, they were excited.”
Basketball has been the driving force in her life since she was a child.
When she was three years old, doctors diagnosed her with Hyperpronation. The Ergemildze’s feared their daughter would be unable to walk, let alone play sports. Through training to walk on casts and physical therapy, Stephania would grow up to walk and find her love for basketball. The same love that basketball gave her, is the same love she wants to share with the world.
“I did what I could in the best way that I knew how,” said Ergemildze. “I know how to bring people together through basketball. I can’t do something that I don’t know how to do. That’s my specialty. That was the best thing I could do with my platform with my audience that I have.”
Ergemildze plans to spread Ballin For Justice throughout the country and is seeking funding to do so. She understands that it may be hard to do so now, but she will continue to drag her hoop around no matter the costs.
“Ideally if we could do it everywhere, that would be awesome,” said Ergemildze. “If we can get the funding to do it let’s go across the country. Having funding makes it easier to do. I’ve been doing this the past year, it’s something that I would do regardless of if I had funding or not.”