Dwyane Wade is a man on a mission. After returning to his native Chicago to play for the Bulls after a storied career with the Miami Heat, Wade dove head first into improving the community around him. His Spotlight On initiative highlights young people using their talents to make a difference in the community and hosts a series of events aimed at introducing kids to different career paths.
Wade didn’t stop there. He formed another, non-basketball Big Three with the Harvard Business School and the City of Chicago to launch Pitch Black. Modeled after the “hackathon” concept, Pitch Black brought students from around the country to Harvard on April 1 to pitch solutions for Chicago in the areas of education, economic development, community engagement and public health. The winning teams will bring their ideas to Chicago for a final pitch in front of Wade, community leaders and other public officials.
EBONY.com caught up with the Bulls’ guard to talk the makings of Pitch Black, hope for Chicago and why a new generation of athletes are ready to bring lasting change to communities across America.
EBONY: What was the genesis behind Pitch Black? Was this something that started when you got back to Chicago?
Dwyane Wade: It was something we talked about every time I went to Harvard. My connections are still there. It came about from a meeting we had. They were looking to do something positive and in Chicago. It was a perfect marriage.
EBONY: Who came up with the areas of focus for the competition?
Wade: Harvard came up with the ideas and the concept for a contest to have people come down to Chicago and pitch not only to myself, but to community leaders to see if this is something we could implement.
EBONY: You hear so much about Chicago, and a lot of it is negative. Some will ask why the focus on the Black community. What would you say to them?
Wade: I focus on the community I come from and the children I know. The same way that I was. It hasn’t changed at all in more than thirty years. I try to focus on the area I remember being in. I was very fortunate to be one of the individuals that came out of the area. It’s a duty of mine to reach back.
EBONY: You mention that these issues have been going on for decades. Do you think there’s a lasting solution or will we always be in a position of just being able to save a few at at time?
Wade: I don’t know. That’s yet to be seen. The only way we can figure it out is if we do more. Think about the City of Chicago. Outside of the community leaders and parents, think abut how many celebrities there are. There’s power in numbers. We definitely can try. It’s cool to see people like Chance [The Rapper] and what he’s doing. We have to do more and not give up.
EBONY: What made you want to do more in the city?
Wade: Just being back. And my cousin being shot and killed. When things hit home… how it effected my family and what we’re dealing with. It makes you want to do more. There are families dealing with the same thing. It’s hard. That was the thing that reset the focus. We’ve always done things in Chicago, but that made me want to make a bigger impact.
EBONY: For politicians and people outside of Chicago, what would you want them to know about your city?
Wade: It’s a beautiful city. it’s one of those places that people around the world see and say, ‘Maybe one day.’ There’s so much excitement in the city about what you can accomplish and what you can be. We get this stigma, and rightfully so, because of the killings, but it’s one of the best cities in the world. I’m biased, but I think it’s a great city. Not only to be from, but to go to.
EBONY: We have a new generation of athletes and entertainers like yourself, LeBron [James] and [Colin] Kaepernick. Maybe ten or fifteen years ago, we saw a lot of athletes with foundations and camps. Today, there’s a lot more focus on creating lasting change. What’s driving that.
Wade: You know how it is with the times. Things change but they stay the same. You look at the Bill Russell’s, the Jim Brown’s, [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar’s, Muhammad Ali. The activists that we look up to. Now is a time where social media allows people to be heard on a different level. Everyone is using their voice. The thing about what Kaep did is that he educated himself. He showed you that if you’re gonna be behind something, you have to know about it.
When people see you on the screen, you become bigger than life. There are people using this platform for good. And that’s a great thing.