OAKLAND (KPIX) – Kids are going back to school after a challenging year of working from home, and on Saturday there were free backpacks in East Oakland and some encouragement from a Golden State warrior who is very familiar with the neighborhood is.
Backpack giveaways are common this time of year, but the one at Elmhurst Middle School in Oakland drew a huge crowd that stretched down the block. That’s because it was also inspired by one of the neighborhood’s native sons: Warriors striker Juan Toscano-Anderson.
“Juan actually grew up two blocks from here, so he’s literally from this area,” said his friend Arrianna Duarte. “That’s why he wanted to host the event here at the school he used to attend.”
Toscano-Anderson founded his “Journey to Achieve Foundation” in January and was a finalist for this year’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion in the NBA.
Duarte manages JTA’s foundation and organized the Saturday event which included a DJ, free lunch, school booty including new earbuds and free haircuts to bring the kids back to campus in style and sharp.
“I have to look good, feel good, work well, you know – get good grades!” Said hairdresser Mark De Guzman as he worked.
The real draw was Toscano-Anderson himself. Now larger than life, he grew up in the neighborhood and adored NBA players, but always from a distance.
“These guys seem so far away and they just seemed to be in a different world than the world I grew up in,” he said.
Now that he’s one of them, Toscano-Anderson is aware of his status as a role model for children and what his signature on a basketball can mean to an 11-year-old like Christopher Ojeda.
“Yes, he sets a good example to keep pushing and always working hard even in difficult times,” said Ojeda.
These have been tough times for kids and it will take hard work to rise above them, but a guy from their block, Toscano-Anderson, helps them envision life outside of the block.
“I want to add to that positivity,” he said. “I want to back up these ideas that the world is bigger for these children than they know. It’s bigger than your neighborhood, it’s bigger than Oakland. So however I can help man, I’m always ready to do that. “