Q&A: Alonzo Mourning’s Second Calling
The NBA legend and humanitarian discusses the struggles and strides of his eponymous foundation for Miami’s youth.
July 24, 2012
Alonzo Mourning is no stranger to the Miami spotlight. He was integral to the Miami Heat’s 2006 NBA championship win, and continues to be a familiar face as the team’s vice president of player development. Keeping Mourning and wife Tracy even more busy are their fundraising efforts for the Alonzo Mourning Charities, a non-profit that Mourning founded in 1997, shortly after he was drafted by the Miami Heat. Not only has the charity raised millions for youth programs, it also helped the Overtown Youth Center (OYC) get off the ground in 2003. For Mourning, who spent much of his young life in a group home and foster care, the center’s mission to provide mentorship and educational enrichment in a safe, fun environment hits close to home.
You’ve had a busy year, with the Heat winning the championship and your annual One Night…One World fundraiser for OYC happening this month.
ALONZO MOURNING: Yes, it has been, on many levels. There are many issues I'm passionate about and that keeps me heavily involved, whether it’s with the Heat organization, supporting our community and national leaders, traveling around the country speaking to kids, or the ongoing work with the OYC to help combat the many challenges we face. Things will continue to be busy because there is so much more work to be done.
How does winning an NBA championship as a player compare to winning one as an employee of the organization?
AM: Winning that last game as a player on the court is unparalleled, but as a team effort, that feeling is felt and shared by the coaches, the staff, and the whole community. It’s a wonderful thing.
How do you use your star power to help places like OYC?
AM: It’s about bringing awareness to an issue in whatever way I can with the resources I have. The truth is, anyone can be a star in his or her own community, or as a spokesperson for a cause they believe in. In a community plagued by conditions such as unemployment rates as high as 22 percent, 20 percent dropout rates, and only a 63 percent graduation rate, it is imperative that the community, as a whole, channel its attention to youth residing in Overtown. The OYC is working around the clock to combat these issues, but we need support.
What have been the biggest challenges?
AM: Our biggest challenge has been trying to create a positive effect on the entire family unit; trying to get parents to buy into the belief that our program does works if the adults in the lives of the children would embrace whole-heartedly those higher standards of educational discipline, higher standards of family involvement, and higher standards of health and wellness.
What sort of long-term progress are you working toward?
AM: An expansion of our program model to provide services to a larger portion of Miami so that kids in neighboring communities, that are also in need of support, can also have a fighting chance to succeed.
Aside from donating funds, how can Miamians get involved?
AM: By becoming a mentor; by advocating for academic equality regardless of economic status, race, or ethnicity; by voting on those issues that impact quality education; and by creating awareness for issues among friends, family, co-workers, and their community.
Is it difficult to balance your personal life, charity work, and career?
AM: Having a great and fulfilling career and family life has allowed me to focus on an area that now needs my attention more than ever, the OYC. It is integral to so many children and families in the community. The experiences we provide and the transformation that we have made will clearly impact generations to come by providing a college tour experience for both students and parents, scholarships to first generation college students, assisting students with meaningful internships, changing the behavior patterns of youth coming from abusive families so that it doesn’t become a vicious cycle, and transitioning students from below reading averages to above reading averages to take them to the next level.