Kobe Bryant leads charge against homelessness

Los Angeles Lakers  star Kobe Bryant is all at the United Way's Sixth Annual
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is all in at the United Way’s Sixth Annual Homewalk to End Homelessness in L.A. County. Bryant served as the honorary chair for the event. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

Hollywood-Action speaks louder than words. NBA star Kobe Bryant is a person who speaks volumes by what he does instead of talking about it. Everyone knows what Bryant can do on the basketball court. His legacy on the hardwood is secure. What he has done for the Los Angeles Lakers and for Team USA during his stellar basketball career has already been bee-lined to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bryant is now aiming to transform that legacy into a humanitarian one by jumping feet first into helping those who are homeless. He has more of an affinity for children and young people who are put in harm’s way as they roam aimlessly from street corner to street corner seeking some of shelter to lay their heads. Bryant wants to do something about this burdening problem in the city of Los Angeles.

While Bryant has created a public persona as an in-your-face, fierce competitor when going up against the NBA’s best almost on a nightly basis, he is just as passionate about trying to eradicate the homeless epidemic. In November, Bryant, serving as honorary chair for United Way’s Sixth Annual Homewalk to End Homelessness in L.A. County, help lead a crowd of over 10,000 people in a 5k walk/run to create more awareness about the problem.

There are an estimated 254,000 men, women and children who are homeless in Los Angeles County, according to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center. Bryant is trying to lead the charge to combat this alarming statistic.

Bryant has always been a man who has stood apart. Whether it’s winning five NBA titles for the Los Angeles Lakers, collecting two gold medals as a United States Olympian or being embellished as one of the all-time basketball greats, Bryant has always managed to distinguish himself from everyone else.  It’s no different when he’s off the basketball court.

As big of a heart Bryant has for the game of basketball, his passion and sincere enthusiasm to helping others may even eclipse the love he has for the sport.  The future Hall of Famer’s charitable works extend well beyond the mind-numbing, congested freeway system in Los Angeles, going as far as to New Orleans, where Bryant and other NBA stars rallied around and assisted Hurricane Katrina survivors during its aftermath.

However, charity begins at home. And Bryant has found a cause in the greater Los Angeles area to support and bring attention to: homeless youth.  Weaving his way through the maze that is called downtown Los Angeles on his way to his nightly performances at Staples Center, Bryant encounters the ghastly sight of so many people living in the streets.

Perhaps even more perplexing to Bryant is the large volume of young people roaming the streets of Skid Row and other seedy parts in the downtown area. A father of two lovely daughters and a champion of young people altogether, the homeless problem lit a fire in Bryant to want to do something about the issue.  Bryant has put words into action.

Last year, the basketball icon and his wife, Vanessa, created a foundation that would tackle the homeless situation, teaming up with “My Friend’s Place,” a drop-in center in Hollywood that operates more or less as a safe haven for wayward youths to keep them off the streets.

Kobe Bryant speaks to the media about the homeless situation in Los Angeles at "My Friend's Place," a haven for young people living on the streets. Bryant, along with wife, Vanessa, have partnered with "My Friend's Place," through the Kobe Bryant and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, to tackle the homeless youth problem. Photo: Dennis J. Freeman
Kobe Bryant speaks to the media about the homeless situation in Los Angeles at a press conference at “My Friend’s Place,” a shelter for young people living on the streets. Bryant, along with wife Vanessa, have partnered with “My Friend’s Place,” through the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, to tackle the homeless youth problem. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

Since partnering with “My Friend’s Place,” the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation (KVBFF) have been actively involved in the inner workings of the center and the young people (ages 12-25) who depend on their services.

Bryant could have taken the easy road by cutting a check to the center and kept it moving. But that’s not what Bryant is about. Much likes the way he works out, Bryant doesn’t believe in taking any kind of short cut in confronting the glaring homeless problem that permeates throughout the city of Los Angeles.

Bryant isn’t just lending his name to a nonprofit organization for some added publicity. This is about lives. This is about saving the future generation and giving hope to the many young people on the streets who have little or nothing to believe in. Speaking at a press conference at “My Friend’s Place,” Bryant talked about what the KVBFF has been able to do in the past year, and what it plans to do moving forward.

“Thanks for a lot of help from board members and thanks to various partners and sponsors, we’ve been able to see that vision through to this point,” Bryant said. “There’s still a long way to go, but it feels good to be able to stand here and have to check the first challenge off our list, so now we can move on to the next. That is what this is about. It is not a popular topic or popular issue.”

Always known as a hands-on type of leader in the basketball arena, Bryant seems to have taken on that same method in efforts to help combat homelessness. Walking the walk and not just talking the talk, Bryant spent some time talking with individuals at the Los Angeles Mission before hitting the darkened streets of Skid Row the night before his well-attended press conference.

Bryant said the experience was emotional.

“You get to hear their stories,” said Bryant. “You get to see first-hand what’s going on.”

My Friend’s Place Director Heather Carmichael is ecstatic about the relationship forged between her center and the KVBFF.

“At the beginning of the youth initiative we had an agreement to continue to educational partners, so I suspect we will continue to be a part of their efforts to have that impact,” said Carmichael. “I know that Vanessa is very interested in continuing to be part of our work, so we’ll see what looks like.

“Between them and their board, they have been more hands-on than I anticipated which has been remarkable.  Kobe has a friend that has gotten involved as well. The hands-on has brought more hands-on. So it has had a much larger impact than I initially anticipated and that is going to continue to move forward.”

Bryant added that the homeless problem is not going away and that it can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug.

“This is issue is the one that kind of gets pushed on the backburner because it’s easy to point the blame at those who are homeless, and say, ‘Well, you made that bad decision. This is where you are. It’s your fault,’” Bryant said. “In life, we all make mistakes.”


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