“I am not a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
It has been a decade and a half since one prominent former Phoenix Suns basketball player took to the airwaves and professed his opinions on the perception of athletes as role models.
Charles Barkley was spreading what he, and others who politicized it, called a family values message. Yet today’s NBA stars, including the Suns’ Amare Stoudemire, were growing up needing role models.
“Sometimes, coming from a broken home, there are kids who really don’t have mentors,” said Stoudemire. “Then they don’t really understand what it takes to be a man or a woman.”
Count Stoudemire among those. His father passed away before he was born, and his mother was working long hours to make ends meet. Consequently, Stoudemire had to look elsewhere for his role models.
“It’s always great to have somebody, whether it’s a music artist, or a basketball player, or even a neighborhood resource officer. It’s always good to have somebody who’s going to uplift your spirit.”
For a kid who grew up playing with G.I. Joes and did not play organized basketball until he was 14 years old, his most prominent and formative role models ended up being late rapper Tupac Shakur … and God.
“I kept my faith. I always prayed first,” says Stoudemire. “But, secondly, I had goals. I stuck with them. I wouldn’t let anything come between myself and my goals.”
Now that he’s achieved many of his goals, Stoudemire is reaching out to those less fortunate in his community. His foundation, Each 1 Teach 1, reaches out to single mothers and children in a social class considered well below those of professional athletes.
“The Suns were fortunate enough to be directly involved with Amare’s foundation in 2006 when he funded over half of a renovation project with the Boys & Girls Club of Phoenix,” says Suns Community Relations Manager Cassidy Kersten, who has seen a lot of Amare’s contributions off the court with her own eyes.
“In conjunction with the Each 1 Teach 1, we rebuilt a reading and learning center at the I.G. Homes Club. Amare’s foundation donated $29,000 and the Suns and Home Depot contributed an additional $25,000.
“The space was outdated, the computers didn’t have Internet access for kids to conduct research, and the books were more than ‘gently used.’ The idea was to renovate the entire space with personalized touches from someone these kids look up to, Amare. A new floor to look like a basketball court and new paint, 12 new computers with Internet access and new software, flat screen TV and DVD player, new desks and chairs and a large number of new books and learning tools that would help these kids succeed.”
“It’s just about reaching the young youth, really,” explains a humble Stoudemire. “The whole goal is to push the fact that education is important. It really is. A lot of kids nowadays don’t understand what education is all about. There are a lot of different avenues of education.”
Stoudemire seeks to ensure today’s underprivileged children do not have to travel the same path he did.
“He wants to help those who are in unfortunate situations because he can relate to them,” affirms Kersten. “It seems that the people he helps are more than just a monetary donation to Amare – he wants to know about their kids and he wants them to be successful – just as he has come through so much in his life to reach the NBA, he wants the kids’ futures to be secure in whatever field they choose.”
“That’s what will make this a better world,” says Stoudemire. “To reach out and give everybody equal opportunities. Kids of poverty don’t always have the equal opportunity to learn, so it’s about reaching in and bringing them out of that stage (of their lives).”
Understanding that kids don’t always have ideal role models, as Barkley previously suggested, Stoudemire is using the lessons of his past to build a brighter future for the children of today. He’s using his gifts and his blessings to be a blessing for the community around him, paying it forward in the hope that others will follow his lead.
“I think it means everything to him,” beams Kersten. “He wants to be the best father for his children, to be a mainstay in the Valley and the local community, and he wants the kids that look up to him to know that they picked a good role model.”