I grew up in Southwest Atlanta in a big family that didn’t have a lot of resources and didn’t live in a great neighborhood.
When I was starting high school, my mom—who at that point was separated from my dad—moved us north of the city, to a new neighborhood with better schools.
I, however, wanted to stay at the high school in my old neighborhood. My friends were there, as well as all the guys I played basketball with. That school—and that neighborhood—were what I knew.
So, for the first semester I took the bus back to my old neighborhood every day for school. It was a long ride, but it felt worth it, until the end of that semester when my mom asked me to switch to the high school in our new neighborhood. The commute had just gotten to be too much.
I made the switch, and the differences at the new high school were huge. Pretty much everything about it was better than my old high school. The environment was better, there was more diversity, better resources, and all kinds of support.
Suddenly, my eyes were opened to a different world outside of where I’d been growing up. I had a shift in perspective. “Wow,” I thought. “I wish I’d had this information and these experiences in my old neighborhood.”
Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, that experience planted a seed in me.
When I got to the University of California, Berkeley as a college freshman, I once again found myself in a whole new world.
Here I was attending a fantastic university on a beautiful campus, clear across the country. And because I was a student-athlete, I had tons of support and resources to help me succeed.
During that year, I worked with a friend who tutored me in writing and other subjects, helping me adjust to the rigors of college academics. He was a Ph.D. student and really believed in the power of education. He’d started an organization that brought kids from the neighborhoods around Berkeley—like Richmond and Oakland—to see the university campus.
My friend was from Richmond, and wanted to make sure that kids from his old neighborhood knew of the options that were available to them. In this case, Berkeley’s campus was only two or three miles away from where they lived, yet the kids had never been there. They needed someone like my friend to show them what existed outside of their neighborhood—outside of what they knew.
From time to time, I would speak to the kids about my experience as a student-athlete, and I loved seeing them spending time at the university. This was their first exposure to college, and you could see their eyes opening to new possibilities as they experienced their own shift in perspective.
Again, a seed was planted in me, and it got me thinking that it would be really cool to play my own part in exposing young kids to new experiences that would help them learn and grow.
Eventually I had that chance. In 2001, I created The Future Foundation, an organization that provides health, education, and life skills programs for kids in the metro Atlanta area, including my old neighborhood.
Inspired by my own experience, the goal of The Future Foundation is to help kids get exposure to new environments, information, and experiences so they, too, can shift their perspective, tap into their potential, and create a better future for themselves.
It’s been such rewarding work.
My sister, Qaadirah, runs the Foundation, and she’s helped it grow so much. Ironically, she’s also been key in shifting MY perspective once again, helping me see that the Foundation’s impact is so much bigger than the little block we grew up on or the school we went to. It’s also bigger than education alone.
With her help, I’ve realized that our impact extends to the issue of poverty itself, and how it’s affecting neighborhood families and kids who live in it and suffer from not having basic resources. By using the Foundation to provide more opportunities for education as well as the essential resources people need, we’re helping to stop the perpetual cycle of poverty that might otherwise continue without that help.
Here’s the thing: we ALL need someone to shift our perspective from time to time—and we all have the potential to shift the perspectives of others.
When we impact others in this way—and allow ourselves to be impacted as well—our possibilities expand and we step into new ways to develop and grow.
But first we have to let go of what we know.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s no easy feat. It’s common to want to stay in our comfort zones and continue doing the same things that make us feel safe. But when we do take the leap into a new situation, environment, friendship, or experience, it can be so powerful, if not life-changing.
The best part is there might be times you can provide those powerful opportunities for someone else.
When you see that chance, seize it. Provide the opportunity for a shift in perspective. It might be just the thing that person needs to change their life and open their eyes to a whole new world.