By Dennis J. Freeman
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has gone toe-to-toe with the best players in the NBA. More often than not, Bryant has come out on top, leading the Lakers to five NBA championships.
On the court, Bryant is known to be fearless, unrepentant and cold-blooded, much like the Black Mamba moniker he is associated with. Off the court, Bryant is just as relentless and savvy, especially when it comes to helping others.
The father of two young daughters, Bryant is particularly fierce when it comes to helping less fortunate children. His annual Kobe Basketball Academy, which takes place July 6-10 on the campus of UC Santa Barbara this year, has always been a pillar of Bryant’s philanthropy efforts.
Actively involved in charitable foundations such as The Center for Abused Children, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Bryant has had a hand in many charitable outreach activities. An astute traveler, who has visited many countries and seen the best and worst of the world, Bryant is looking to expand his efforts to do more.
With the assistance of his wife, Vanessa, Bryant now wants to lead the charge in fighting the homeless issue in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles has the largest homeless population in the country. As Bryant drives through the downtown section and other parts of the city, like everyone else, he couldn’t help but see the seedy and unsafe conditions folks were living in.
People camp out in cardboard boxes, living in quarters that consist of nothing more than a couple of old, worn blankets and shredded newspapers as he would make his drive to work at nearby Staples Center. Most of those on the streets living homeless are African Americans and Latinos.
According to statistics reported this year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, African Americans make up 43.7% of the homeless population in Los Angeles County. Latinos comprise 27.7 % of the homeless group. In the city itself, African Americans make up nearly half (49.3%) of those on the streets.
The LAHSA states in its executive report that the demographic age group of 25-54 represent the largest number of those who are homeless in the county, accounting for 62.5% of streetwalkers.
After spending time researching the issue, Bryant and Vanessa decided to bring more attention to the homeless problem by launching the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. The non-profit organization was created by the couple to help improve the lives of young people and families in need.
“On my way to games, I noticed children and families living on the streets blocks away from where I play and it didn’t sit well with me,” said Kobe Bryant. “I wanted to help make a difference in homelessness and what better place to start than in my own back yard.”
Bryant and Vanessa made the announcement about their foundation at My Friend’s Place, a Hollywood-based non-profit that assists homeless youth in building sufficient lives for themselves.
Founded in 1988, My Friend’s Place, which service young people living on the streets from age 12 to 25, host up to 1,600 youth annually.
Heather Carmichael, executive director of My Friend’s Place, said the young people they bring in should get a second chance to succeed.
“There are approximately 9,500 homeless youth under the age of 24 living on the streets of Los Angeles each year. Regardless of what has brought these youth to the streets, they deserve the opportunity to realize their potential,” said Carmichael.