Those who can bridge the divide between disparate communities can create opportunity and hope where it may not have existed before.
Enter Baron Davis: two-time NBA All-Star and record-holder who is on a mission to be this bridge between his two homes: South Central Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
Why? Because Davis grew up in South Central where he lived with his mom and two sisters. His parents struggled with drug use which resulted in the children’s being en route to foster care when his grandparents swooped in and took them in.
He’d been to thirteen funerals before his thirteenth birthday, and would often compare his neighborhood to living in Beirut because of the screams and gunshots. At night, he’d crawl under the dining room table to read books and cartoons as his method of escaping.
By middle school, his grandmother and coach provided him with the opportunity to attend Crossroads, a private school in Santa Monica. Davis described it as “leaving Beirut and going to Disney every day”.
He credits not needing to look over his shoulder for his safety for allowing him to “become a sponge” and soak in all the newness. He was most taken by the creativity as so many of the students were children of people in Hollywood. He began to see school as play and a place where he could dream; whereas, home was a place to “protect and serve”.
He quickly realized he needed to be the bridge between the two places.
Throughout this time, he also realized he was great at basketball, but frustrated with what he couldn’t accomplish. So, he became his own agent. He was “doing the things that people told me I couldn’t do” because he wanted to allow “the next generation to have access to things they couldn’t do before”.
Fast-forward to today where Davis spends a lot of time back in South Central sponsoring basketball leagues, taking kids to eat, “preaching to them”, and funding programs. He’s also working alongside multicultural artists to tell stories about modern day topics that represent kids from different backgrounds in hopes of inspiring and empowering them.
What has he learned through his journey, and what can we learn as a byproduct?
Be a bridge-builder
“To me, being a bridge-builder means knowing what you are building and understanding the navigational direction to your target destinations. I had to learn how to adapt to new surroundings and how to make my friends and classmates from each world comfortable with one another. I’ve had a long experience in bringing people of different stripes and backgrounds together.”
How do you act as a bridge?
“Explore outside of your comfort zone. When traveling to high school, I would be sure to take different routes so that I discovered more neighborhoods and pockets of people that I didn’t know much about. Every day became a different, informative journey for me. Witnessing people from all walks of life and economic situations really helped me identify where a lot of the problems plaguing our communities were centralized.”
Use the power of story to connect us
“To be a bridge-builder, you have to connect. Generations need to communicate and share knowledge and wisdom and be open to new ideas and ways of doing things the youth want.
Stories can play a hugely important role in remedying problems. The more we share our stories, the more we connect. Storytelling sparks ideas, dreams, and inspiration! ”
Act as a problem-solver
“The problems I want to solve involve issues like helping to foster economic wealth for African-Americans and minorities. I ultimately want to help nurture a new generation of leaders and thinkers to come together to attack world issues like economic disparity, environmental stewardship, and criminal justice reform.”
Honor from where you came
“I come from the bottom, and it’s important for kids who come from welfare households to know that they can make it despite all of the difficult circumstances they are faced with. Being a beacon of light and helping to create ladders of opportunity are my most important missions as someone who escaped that environment.”
Make a ripple-effect
“Some ventures I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of involve creating pathways to success for kids in need, setting up reading rooms, and investing in basketball programs that have nurtured a lot of NBA athletes who are now giving back themselves by building businesses in their local communities.”
Now, how can you be a bridge-builder?
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This article was originally published on Forbes.