Diamond-Stackz Classic Organization grows far beyond basketball


When Sterling Ta'bon and his friends hosted their first Diamond-Stackz Classic basketball tournament in 2015, they were just looking for a way to celebrate their friend Erick White, who passed away not long after graduating from Sumter High School.

Ta'bon had no idea just how far that basketball tournament would take them.

A decade later, the Diamond-Stackz Classic Organization represents much more than a basketball tournament, but their lost friend is still very much in the forefront. The program has blossomed into a home for youth looking to grow through mentorship and leadership. Ta'bon and crew have added a slew of programs, most recently the Empowering Kings program that is set to kick off in May, to help lead the next generation to a better tomorrow.

"I remember being at the Miller Arms Apartments and like we were like packed wall to wall, but I think that was the first time I'd actually seen a group of boys together, and we were just sitting there crying. We're crying, we're mourning, we're celebrating," Ta'bon said. "From those moments there, it impacted me to say we do need spaces in which we see each other, we see the human side of each other, we see how to celebrate traumatic experiences and then how to take those traumatic experiences and create something that instills life."

It all started with a basketball tournament at M.H. Newton Family Life Center. A year later, the tournament moved to Sumter High, an important first step in the continued growth of the program.

"Erick's funeral was at Sumter High School on that court," Ta'bon said. "For those that knew, us bringing that tournament to the court that he played on and the court we gave him a home-going service on was a bigger thing for us."

As DSC expanded its reach, they started small. Ta'bon's initial idea was a scholarship fund, but he quickly felt it wasn't the best way to help the youth of Sumter.

"I'm all for scholarship funds. I've been blessed to go to college, got a master's degree and all that good stuff. But as an organization, we sat down in maybe 2019 and asked how we can do more than just give away money to one or two seniors in Sumter," he said. "That's why we sat down and created the Diamond Effect Leadership Program. Our goal was to create a community and create adolescents that understood their purpose, understood their purpose within the community and create access points, just increasing possibilities for communities here in Sumter."

The Diamond Effect Leadership Program gave DSC a foundation. From there, Ta'bon and company found ways to expand. They run weekly live sessions every Wednesday where they use sports as an entry point to teach life lessons. That program runs as a partnership with The Blueprint, a youth ministry at Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church. They then expanded to leadership combines, which Ta'bon compares to a summer camp squeezed into a one-day conference focused on transformative leadership.

"It's the idea that both inspiring and motivation could lead to not only changing themselves, but being a change in their own environment," Ta'bon said. "We really want to attack all things that affect our community."

Part of that attack is making youth aware of all of the negative "isms" that plague the community and how to grow past them.

"Whether it's sexism, classism, racism, ableism, all those things that hinder youth in our community, we just want to teach them ways to deal with that and then teach them allyship as well," he said.

Growing up in Sumter, Ta'bon had a mindset that many of today's youth can be clouded by. He spent his entire life hearing that to succeed, you had to get out of Sumter. Those success stories weren't rooted in his backyard. He wanted to change that perception.

"I found out that wasn't true at 24 years old. I think I found out I just wasn't getting the access to these types of individuals," Ta'bon said. "I want our organization to be seen by those individuals that have gone out and done great work and they've been trying to figure out what they can do in Sumter and how they can like be a part of the change in Sumter."

Ta'bon's next venture, which is set to begin in early May, is another step toward expanding the reach of the Diamond-Stackz Classic Organization. Empowering Kings is a partnership with Fast Forward, a nonprofit that advocates for teen reproductive health and information. The program includes a 10-step curriculum that covers everything from consent to building strong relationships to health care.

"We've been able to get a grant where we've been able to work with about 40 or 50 youth where they'll learn lessons about consent, they'll learn about their identity," Ta'bon said. "Hopefully by the end of May we'll have a few lessons going on and then hopefully create a few cohorts, and a year from now, you'll see cohorts of these youths being impacted and working in your community."

Of course, DSC is still rooted in basketball. The 10th edition of the tournament is right around the corner on May 18. Athletics will always be the perfect access point for Ta'bon and DSC.

"If you go in any neighborhood right now in Sumter, there is a gym in some shape or form, there's a court. It's something called the huddle, and within the huddle, no matter shape or color, we're here for the same fight," Ta'bon said. "We wanted to use that form of sports to create these safe spaces, no matter the demographic or what they've done to say, 'We see you, we value you.' And from those moments, if you don't like sports, tell me what you like to do. We just want to create an environment in which once they came to us through that one avenue, we're able to connect them to multiple avenues."

Throughout every stage of DSC's growth, Ta'bon credits White's mom, Alecia Thomas, for allowing their fallen friend to remain at the heart of everything they do.

"Shout out to her and her guidance and her being able to be the catalyst by saying, 'Hey, Sterling, go forth with this legacy of my son,'" Ta'bon said. "Every year we're resurfacing her son. Every time she hears this organization, she has to kind of go through that process of maybe mourning or missing her own child. Her having the strength to say, 'Continue on the legacy. I'm going to continue supporting you all as an organization by the way you're carrying my son's name.' It says a lot for us. We meet with his family often to just kind of have a conversation as far as what we're doing in the community about his legacy.

"Erick never met his daughter, Kylin, so by us having this tournament every year, his daughter gets to see the support, the love, the energy that her father had through us and the people that show up, and maybe she gets a little taste of what it was like to be around Erick and his spirit."


Anyone looking to work with the Diamond-Stackz Classic Organization or guardians interested in signing up their student can email demyouthlead@gmail.com.

"If anyone wants to work with youth or take part in the Diamond Effect Mentorship Leadership Program, we're going to have what we call train the trainers, where we'll be teaching trauma-informed methods of how to work with the youth of today. That'll be coming out this summer," Ta'bon siad. "But if anyone in the Sumter community has time and wants to give back, they have an hour or eight hours a month, whatever it might be, we would love to hear from them."