Markel Leonard – Lewis and Clark Basketball

“I grew up in Richmond, California. It’s known for a lot of violence and poverty and a lot of things that kids shouldn’t have seen growing up, but I was blessed to be sheltered with a great family. I had a lot of great role models to grow up around. I was raised by a single mother with grandparents. She worked two to three jobs just to make sure my sister and I were ok.”

“I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for growing up in Richmond because it taught me a lot of things that I apply on the day-to-day. First, this is not what I want to be. I knew that I didn’t want to be just another kid from Richmond that fell through the cracks. I just didn’t know how I was going to escape.”

“I was blessed with an athletic ability. Basketball, baseball, and football were my escapes or getaways from what was going on outside. It was my way of staying out of trouble. “I stayed on the right path because I had a great family that told me: “You can dare to be different. You can be intelligent. You can like school and sports at the same time. It’s ok to be a Black kid that’s smart and gets a 3.8 and also gets 20 points a game. It clicked early on in my life that this was going to be my way out: getting good grades and being good on the court.”

“I always bet on myself and I always dared to be different. My story is about perseverance and always being more than just an athlete. I thought about quitting, but I realized that I didn’t come this far to quit. The first two years of high school I came off the bench and played hardly any minutes. Those first two years taught me that you have to work hard, and I had to keep thinking about my mom. She didn’t raise a quitter. I didn’t come this far to quit on my dream.”

“The rest of my life has always been about how I can come in and contribute to the collective and not myself. That’s how I was raised: being selfless and being a servant-leader. I been raised by servant-leaders. Lebron James and Maverick Carter, they say, ‘more than an athlete,’ and I started living by that after I was done playing. I wanted to be a professional basketball player and I had a chance. My coach told me a couple small leagues (in England) wanted me to come hoop. I had to weigh the pros and cons.”

“What really changed my mind was a couple of kids I grew up with that are incarcerated. I realized that me going to play basketball overseas is not going to have an impact on this world for kids that look like me, for kids that come from where I come from, worldwide. I want to have an everlasting impact, so I had to start thinking how I could do that because that’s how I want to be remembered when I’m far gone from this planet. I want to be remembered as a visionary, as someone who opened the door for kids from the inner-city to step through, not just another basketball player.”

“I would hear the police sirens, I would see the stuff going on on the corner, I would see all the guys hanging out at the corner, I would see the fights, but none of that stuff appealed to me. My family really saved my life. Now it’s about me being that pioneer for them and showing them this is what you can do. A lot of times, kids from the inner city think that a lot of things aren’t for them because they don’t see people that look like them on TV. They don’t think they can be a doctor or lawyer or COO or CEO of a sports team. They don’t think they can be those things because they don’t see it. So, for me, I’m gonna be that so those kids can see Markel Leonard from Richmond, California, an African American male can do it, I can do it too.”

“Athletes and entertainers can really have an effect of change by partnering with their mayors by giving their resources and money to the city and donating their money and resources to programs and helping out with the issues that the mayors of the poverty-ridden cities know about. Some examples would be like donating money to after school programs so kids have meals to eat, donating to college funds for kids who are smart enough, but don’t have the means to go to college, etc. I think that would spring a real change in poverty-ridden cities.”

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