WASHINGTON - On Friday, for the fourth year in a row the John Wall Foundation donated backpacks and school supplies to local children from first to eighth grades at the Rosedale Community Center in Northeast Washington. Every year, Wall steps into the community and donates free backpacks and school supplies to children in need in the surrounding community.
Normally the event is packed, and despite the sweltering heat, this year was no different. It was about 93 degrees in Washington, but there were children everywhere running around on the football field of the community center. They were going from booth to booth with painted faces, searching for any water to help them cool off.
This is what innocence looks like. This is what Wall is working to preserve in these children for as long as he possibly can. This is what childhood is. Shortly after 3 p.m., everyone is called to a tent Wall is standing under where he’s preparing to say a few words about the event and finally pass out backpacks filled with school supplies for children.
“This is a great thing,” a parent said, taking pictures of Wall as he distributes backpacks to children one by one. “We need more of this.”
It’s true — it’s not something you’d normally see. Washington is a transient town with many people who come and go. It’s rare that you’ll find successful people who have deep connections to this city and are willing to give back.
There are two versions of D.C. One is Capitol Hill where the biggest decisions in the country are made, interns are glamorized and you can buy a good cappuccino from your local coffee shop. But that’s not the actual city. The city is filled with real people who have real struggles and need a helping hand.
Though it’s improving, the city has one of the highest homeless populations in the country with many struggling to pay the local cost of living. People are being forced out of the city through sale or struggle and need all the help they can get.
Wall is doing his part. Backpacks seem like such a trivial, insignificant thing. But for children growing up in difficult circumstances, they hold so much importance. It keeps them in school and out of trouble. For parents, it keeps some money in their pockets so they can afford to keep the lights on and buy groceries for the month.
Last year, parents spent $659, on average, on back-to-school supplies according to CNBC. By providing backpacks, Wall isn’t just helping children, he’s helping families. And for him to do that, in this area, is special.
I grew up in Capitol Heights, Maryland in Prince George’s County. It’s a small neighborhood about a five minute ride away from the border Southeast Washington, D.C.
My family moved me away when I was 12 years old, right after a drug deal went bad at the playground in the school I used to go to. Someone was shot and killed at the local basketball court.
The fog of time makes this memory too distant for me to remember who he was, but the gravity of the moment won’t let me ever forget it. I remember the pain the neighborhood felt — he couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. He was a son, a brother, a friend and another human being. But after that day, he became another statistic.
As we moved away, I lost touch with everyone. Some of them are still here today and doing very well. Some of them aren’t, with different circumstances applying to each one. And they aren’t bad people — I grew up with many of them. They just made mistakes along their path that led to different consequences.
I find myself wondering what a person like Wall could have done for the boy who died on my street.
On the surface, it’s just a bag of course. It’s meant to carry school supplies, which isn’t a small thing, but it’s also very common. But each year now, for four years in a row, Wall has mattered in some child’s life. He’s showed them that they matter, and that they can make a difference given the proper tools. They don’t have to resort to other, sometimes more dangerous, means to make ends meet.
“I just want these kids to understand that no matter where you start at or what you go through, you always can accomplish anything in life,” Wall said. “It might not be a professional basketball player. It might be a doctor, it might be a nurse. It might be whatever you want it to be. But if that’s what you want to be, lock in and set your goal for it and work hard every day for it.”
So, even if it seems trivial, a little backpack goes a long way. Wall is showing children there is another way, through what he does and through what they can do in school. And for this community, that means the world.