From Athletes to Role Models and Philanthropists

As the NFL season has officially kicked off, I am reminded of the positive ways that so many athletes are effecting change off the field.

Indeed, the area of sports philanthropy is becoming increasingly common.

At the Council on Foundations’ recent Leading Together conference, the growing trend in sports philanthropy specifically was explored in two sessions, one entitled, “Sports Philanthropy in Action and on Impact” and another entitled, “The Intersection of Sports and Philanthropy.”

Curated by Christal Jackson, Founder of Head and Heart Philanthropy, The Intersection of Sports and Philanthropy was designed to highlight the journeys of Charles Johnson and Devean George, sports stars who have become philanthropists. During their session, Johnson and George, who long dreamed of giving back to their communities, shared the story of CGG Holdings, a collaborative focused on affordable housing which allowed them to realize their dream.

CGG is a partnership among athletes Charles Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Devean George and South Carolina housing expert and businessman Reggie Barner. The organization focuses on providing affordable housing to families across the country. The idea was born out of personal experience. The men wanted to create sustainable impact and they firmly believed that adequate housing is paramount to the health and well-being of families. Among the goals of the organization is the establishment of a real estate fund that will allow them to increase their reach across the country and provide a space for aspiring real estate developers to learn best practices – especially those focused on affordable housing.

On the surface, this looks similar to many other celebrity-led efforts within the philanthropic sector. Look deeper, however, and there is much here that is unique to the individuals involved. Charles Johnson is a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers. Devean George is a retired three-time NBA champion who most recently played for the Golden State Warriors. Kevin Garnett is a legend who spent 21 seasons in the NBA and helped lead the Boston Celtics to a NBA championship. All of the men are African American. CGG’s projects include housing units in Minnesota, Georgia and South Carolina.

From left: Floyd Mills, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Council on Foundations, Charles Johnson, founder of the Charles Johnson Foundation, Christal Jackson, Founder of Head and Heart Philanthropy and Devean George, Founder of Building Blocks.
From left: Floyd Mills, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Council on Foundations, Charles Johnson, founder of the Charles Johnson Foundation, Christal Jackson, Founder of Head and Heart Philanthropy and Devean George, Founder of Building Blocks.

These athletes recognize the impact of their work on the communities they serve. They also recognize their visibility in those same communities, particularly among young African American men who see them first as sports stars.

But the story of these men as philanthropists is not as well known. For many, the field of philanthropy is extremely exclusive—an element of society reserved for the wealthy and privileged. While this may have been true of the early philanthropists such as Rockefeller, Ford, and Kellogg, the philanthropists of today more closely represent the diversity of our nation’s population. Today’s philanthropists include people of color, young people, and people with varying degrees of wealth. In fact, the people entrusted with the legacies of Rockefeller, Ford, and Kellogg are often cited as examples of the increasing diversity within the philanthropic sector.

From left: Floyd Mills, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Council on Foundations, Charles Johnson, founder of the Charles Johnson Foundation, Christal Jackson, Founder of Head and Heart Philanthropy and Devean George, Founder of Building Blocks.

For the athletes involved who developed CGG, giving back to their communities means more than economic development. It also means planting seeds of hope for young people. All either have their own or engage with foundations, which has enabled them to give back in additional ways. Charles Johnson created the Charles Johnson Foundation in 2012 to provide opportunities for underserved youth and to provide support for single African American mothers. Devean George founded his charitable organization, Building Blocks, to support and mentor youth and to develop and create sustainable communities. The name, Building Blocks, is a reference to the blocks so many of us played with as children. According to George, “Providing our children with positive role models and mentorship programs is much like creating a community. Within a community you must pave the roads and create a foundation to build a landmark that will withstand nature’s elements and time. It is the same with children. The role models. If the wrong choices are made, it becomes impossible to develop strong future leaders and the cycle of deterioration continues.”

These athletes are among a growing pool of African American philanthropists whose stories are contributing to a counter narrative so necessary to our society at this time and leveraging their celebrity and their voices to fuel change in their communities.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.