By: Sabrina Schaefer
While Shawn was growing up in East Oakland, the city was experiencing the highest rise in crime rates in the country, claiming the lives and freedom of thousands young men of color. But when Shawn reflects on his childhood, he speaks only of the privilege; of the loving family who raised him and the supportive coaches and teammates who kept him on the court rather than the streets.
Despite being a far different place than it was in the 1970’s, the threats to young Black and Brown boys in Oakland, boys who don’t have the privileges Shawn had, are still prevalent. These inequities and empty spaces he sees in his community are what’s driven Shawn to spend so much of his life volunteering and supporting the kids in his neighborhood.
“God has blessed us with so much in our lives, but there’s so many people who don’t have that,” Shawn says. “So many kids don’t have the structure we had, so we got to give that to them.”
Shawn started the Scholar Athletic Union (SAU) with good friend and NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd to give kids opportunity. Through SAU, Shawn helps underserved kids in Oakland realize their potential through sports and academics. Many of the kids he’s coached over the past decade are those whose families are struggling with the heightened difficulties during the COVID-19 crisis.
The inequity, the lack of access to healthy, affordable food, the daily hardship; that’s not new, he says. What is new, is the way Shawn now spends his volunteer hours and the ways he supports his community and young players. “The transition to food distribution was natural, a lot of these players we coach, they are the families who need food too,” Shawn says.
“I drove past ECAP (Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program) for 25-30 years, and I would just keep on driving. It’s incredible how unaware you can be of the good work going on in your community,” Shawn says of ECAP in West Oakland where he now spends two to three days a week.
Alongside ECAP staff and fellow Coaching Corps volunteers, including Joshua Jones, a former SAU player of his, Shawn helps distribute food to thousands of neighbors and families. After four months of volunteering with ECAP, the reward never gets old. “Just to look into the eyes of each person that picks up, they appreciate every box of food, every fruit, every vegetable.”
Despite the tremendous impact Shawn and the team have here, Shawn thought he could be doing more; so, he joined former NBA All-Star Antonio Davis and Coaching Corps staff member Robert Marcus’ crew distributing tons of farm fresh food across food deserts in Oakland and Richmond–admittedly creating a pretty tight schedule for himself. “We’re literally running our companies from these trucks. We’re on Zoom calls all the time,” he laughs while saying of himself and Antonio Davis, who are both business owners.
Shawn hopes the impact he and his team are having go beyond the food they’re giving out and help change the harmful perceptions he and young Black men face.
“On the news you see all this negative stuff, but [people] are getting to see firsthand all these young brothers doing positive work, helping the community. I just know that’s having an impact on people.” Shawn continues, “Even these college kids [we’re volunteering with], they see me and Antonio, we’re CEOs taking time out of very busy schedules because we really don’t have a choice. We have to give back to our community.”
To join Shawn and others as part of the Summer #CorpsCommunity delivering urgently-needed food to kids and families, visit CoachingCorps.org and find volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood. To get involved with the mass food distribution in the East Bay, contact Director of Government and Community Engagement, Robert Marcus, firstname.lastname@example.org.