Prominent Athlete Acknowledged for Work with Struggling Youth and Families

John Wall is best known for his actions on the court, but his actions off are what caught the attention of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which recently recognized him with an award.

Wall, a point guard for the Washington Wizards, is the first NBA player to receive the McKinney Award, named after Congressman Stewart B. McKinney of Connecticut who sponsored legislation that provided federal assistance to the homeless, said Diane Aten, director of development and communications at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

At the event, Wall said giving back to others was an important part of his upbringing.

“I do it from the bottom of my heart because this is what my mom instilled in me as a young man growing up, and what I wanted to do,” Wall said. “And to see it put some smiles on a lot of kids’ faces and family faces means a lot to me.”

Last year, Wall was the recipient of the October NBA Cares Community Assist Award for his charitable contributions to non-Hodgkin lymphoma research and for holding his annual #2SQUAD Back to School event through his John Wall Family Foundation, which provides resources and mentorship to at-risk youth and their families.

News about another charitable donation Wall had made caught the attention of National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty board of directors member Dwight Fettig last September.

Fettig was the one who suggested that Wall should be considered for the McKinney Award after reading that he had unexpectedly given $400,000 to Bright Beginnings, Inc.—a child and family center for those living in crisis shelters or transitional housing in Washington, D.C.—during a visit in “The Washington Post.”

“He is very focused not only on providing financial aid but also providing his time and physical presence to youth in the community and raising awareness around the issue of homelessness,” Aten said. “So when we see people like John Wall step up and speak out about these issues, it’s important to acknowledge that.”

Aten said her organization would like to honor more athletes who use their fame to shine a light on poverty and homelessness. The last professional athlete to be given the McKinney Award was NFL player Steven Smith Sr., a wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens, in 2014.

“When important people like John Wall do these things and are recognized for it, this helps to motivate others to do the same,” Aten said.

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.