Two men who grew up in the housing projects north of downtown, one a millionaire athlete and the other a budding celebrity, spent Saturday morning giving out school supplies to kids from their former neighborhood.
About 500 community members and volunteers came out to Lions Park, just a short walk from the sprawling Raleigh North/Millbank Court apartments. They came for pencils and backpacks, music, a free lunch and thousands of pounds of food to take home from the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
“I think it’s great, everybody in the community coming together for something like this,” said 35-year-old Escents Devine, who was there with his wife and children ages 2, 7 and 10.
Many also got in line to get autographs from Nate McMillan and Jason Bobbitt. McMillan, an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers, has been a head coach in the NBA, won an Olympic gold medal coaching alongside Mike Krzyzewski and had his jersey retired by the Seattle SuperSonics.
Bobbitt, 26, recently moved to Atlanta for a career in acting and directing. He plays a chef on Tyler Perry’s show “Love Thy Neighbor,” his first big role.
McMillan grew up in Raleigh North, and Bobbitt grew up in the nearby Halifax Court Apartments. They both had single moms and spent their youth playing at the Lions Park fields where Saturday’s event was held.
“It was rough, growing up in the projects,” Bobbitt said. “But I made it out. I’m still making it out.”
McMillan went to four elementary schools and three middle schools. He said that lack of stability could have led him into a life of crime.
Instead, he stuck with sports and school. He’s now in his 29th year in the NBA after graduating from Enloe High School and N.C. State University.
“My mother raised six kids, and I’ve never seen my father,” McMillan told the crowd. “Some of you are in single-parent homes. And that’s no excuse for you to say you can’t make it. Because you can.”
Bobbitt had a similar message.
“I ended up on TV because I had a dream ... that I could be anything I want to be,” he said. “And no one could stop me but me.”
Both men said it’s almost impossible to be successful without first being educated.
“Education, you get 12 years for free,” McMillan told the crowd. “And you’re not showing up. Almost half our community – and I’m talking black people – are not graduating. ... Parents, you’ve got to parent. You can’t allow your kid to drop out of school.”
Brenda Williams said McMillan’s speech resonated with her. The 47-year-old mother of four was homeless last year but now has an apartment in Raleigh North and has been job searching for the past seven months, she said.
Until she finds a job, Williams said she’s glad for community events like these – especially for her kids, ages 4 to 9.
“I think it’s good because a lot of people can’t afford all those supplies,” she said.
Kevin Bobbitt, a distant cousin of Jason Bobbitt’s, put on the event. He is founder of Kemetic Cultural Science & System of Unity, or KCSSU.
Like McMillan, Kevin Bobbitt is 50 and grew up in the local projects, a star athlete on the Lions Park fields. But he turned to crime as a young man and then again as an adult, after leaving the military and returning home.
He served time in prison but records show no troubles since he was last released more than a decade ago. He now wants to use KCSSU to help others avoid the mistakes he made.
“That’s the first thing we teach our children – self-respect and group respect – so they can get along instead of fighting each other,” Kevin Bobbitt said.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran