Dwight Howard has been both a superstar player and international ambassador for today’s NBA, but equally as important, he’s a man with a desire to give back to his Atlanta community through his big heart for children.
This past Sunday, more than 150 young men (along with a parent or guardian) enjoyed the Hawks’ game against the Nets—and they had the privilege of meeting Howard pregame. The occasion? “The Ties That Bind,” his initiative with the Atlanta Public Schools. He had worked with teachers, coaches and mentors to choose students who are responsible leaders and working hard to stay on the right path.
“It doesn’t take much to tell a kid, ‘You’re doing a great job,’ or let them know you care,” Howard said. “These are the things which ‘tie’ us together and make our community stronger.”
Howard’s idea for “The Ties That Bind” stemmed from a community event he did in Atlanta with JCPenney over the holidays. He joined the department store in helping children from the local YMCA of Metro Atlanta select holiday gifts for themselves and their families. After several of the kids bought neckties, they didn’t know how to tie them correctly. So they asked Howard for help, and he gave them a tutorial step by step.
That’s when the idea hit him that ties are more than just a style piece; they are a symbol of taking responsibility and becoming a leader. And through his role teaching the young men, it demonstrated the need for mentors to step up and help guide them.
When the school year finishes, 25 boys, who have been selected by their schools and programs, will be recognized as the “Top Tie Guys.” They’ll receive one of Howard’s own ties and a $25 gift card from JCPenney. Also, one of them will appear in his upcoming “Mentoring Flipped” video, produced by the National Mentoring Resource Center and coming out next month. In addition, he regularly records video messages for the youth through his D12 Foundation (like the one below).
“Encouraging leadership, scholarship and service to others are among my key goals in my work in Atlanta off the court,” Howard said. “I’m grateful to JCPenney for all of their generosity in supporting this effort, and to the teachers, coaches and parents who are working tirelessly to ensure our young men can achieve.”
In his accomplished 13-year career, Howard has been a recipient of the NBA Cares Community Assist Award, in recognition of his outstanding efforts in the community and for his ongoing philanthropic and charitable work. He’s also a five-time winner of the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award, when he played for the Magic for eight years and led them to the 2009 Finals.
Howard’s work also spans globally. Not only does his D12 Foundation have a U.S. focus on facilitating youth empowerment, leadership and positive change in the lives of American youth through early childhood education and literacy, but it also emphasizes education in East Africa. He has built dormitories there to ensure the safety of hundreds of girls who simply want to pursue an education. And looking ahead, he’s launching a sanitary hygiene project to keep girls in school and employ local women in the African region.