Photos provided by www.nityiadesign.com
The A PLUS Youth Program held its “Changing the Game” breakfast earlier this week at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club.
The featured speakers included Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Minnesota Timberwolves guard-forward Martell Webster. Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes, another local product, also attended the event.
Webster took the opportunity to tell his story in his own words. A copy of the speech was sent to me after the breakfast, and I wanted to share it here on the blog:
Some of you probably look at me now as:
— An NBA player.
— Someone with money.
— A man with a beautiful wife and kids.
You see that, but you might not fully understand the path I took to get here. I’d like to share with you why my story is an A PLUS story.
I did not come from a traditional household. I lost my mother when I was very young, much younger than any child should lose a parent. Like many of the youth in our community, my father was not in my life.
I was raised by a village: My grandmother, my cousins, my sisters and brothers among others. Although I did not have a traditional household, I was blessed with people who loved and cared for me.
When I was in middle school, I was put in special education. For those of you who are not familiar with special education, it’s a program within public schools for kids who have a disability. For me, they said I was emotionally and behaviorally disabled. They believed this was rooted in the loss of my mother.
Being in this program, my attitude didn’t get much better, but the one thing that remained the same: I loved basketball.
It was my outlet. It became a passion. As I started to improve, I began to play competitive basketball. Here’s the important part: I was fortunate enough to be reared by individuals who emphasized the importance of academics and morals.
I had mentors. Some of them are in this room. I had older role models — one of them is Tavio Hobson the founder of the organization. I had people who didn’t just pay me lip service; they genuinely showed me the way. For me, basketball still remained my passion.
When I was in ninth grade, I was faced with one of the toughest decisions of my life. I consider it one of the defining moments of my childhood. I was a freshman at Seattle Prep. I had a cumulative GPA of somewhere around 1.0. Prep was very supportive of me, but told me I needed to do my part. I needed to spend extra time doing work. I needed to go to tutoring and then the ultimate sacrifice: I needed to go to summer school. Let me repeat that, I needed to go to summer school.
I was Martell Webster, the No. 1 freshmen in the nation. Let me repeat that, I was Martell Webster the No. 1 freshmen in the nation. Summer school? I would miss the Nike tournaments. I would miss nationals. I would miss all the AAU events that every kid my age dreams of. I would miss that experience. I wanted that experience. I wanted as many basketball experiences as possible.
Ultimately, everyone left the decision up to me. I thought it was unfair. Why should I have to sit out? Deep down inside it was a decision that was bigger than basketball. It was about my educational future. As much as I loved basketball, I chose summer school.
It was a decision I would not have made, had I not had strong adults around me who continued to preach the importance of education.
What an amazing opportunity. What a blessing. What a scary thought: What would have happen to me had education not been my emphasis?
The A PLUS emphasis on education is exactly what our kids need. I’ve spoken to the kids in the mentor program and, in one way or another, they are just like me. They might think the next AAU tournament is the most important thing in the world. It’s up to us to remind them that education comes first.
I am a father of three, and I want the A PLUS opportunity for, not only young boys, but my three daughters as well. This program is for your kids, and your grandkids, for my kids and my grandkids.
It’s like building a house; you never start from the roof down. You start with the foundation, and A PLUS is the foundation. So all we have to do is build these kids up and give them the tools they need to be successful.