By Jeff Seidel of Detroit Free Press
He hasn’t been here a month, but he’s already pledged to help out Osborn High
Tobias Harris, the newest Piston, sat in the auditorium at Detroit Osborn Monday afternoon, talking to a group of high school students. It was an off day for the Pistons, but he was out in the community doing something special.
“We are here to help you guys,” Harris told the students in one of the roughest areas of the city on Detroit’s east side. “We are here to see you guys be successful. We are here to see you guys, someday, be leaders in this world. We are here to see you guys be successful in whatever you want to do. That could be in sports. That could be in being a doctor or lawyer. That could be in anything you want to do.”
A few minutes earlier, the Pistons had announced plans to donate $300,000 over three years to bring City Year, an AmeriCorps program, into Osborn to give these students academic, social and emotional support.
“I’m the perfect example of somebody who has been sitting in those seats, just like you guys, in high school, sitting there, wondering what I was going to do when I got older, or what I was going to do in my life,” said Harris, who signed up to be an honorary AmeriCorps member. “One thing all of you guys should be doing is writing down your goals. Everybody here (can) help you reach your goals.”
A few feet away, Dave Bing, the former Piston and Detroit mayor, nodded his head.
“I love getting involved in the community and with kids and working with you guys,” Harris continued. “Because there is so much potential. You don’t want to waste your potential. You guys all have one basic gift right now, an amazing opportunity to be special.”
It was a powerful moment. How many of these kids have ever been told that they could be special? And by a Piston, no less?
“The people here today, the organizations, are here to help you do that,” Harris said. “Take full advantage of it. Really make sure you get the best out of whatever you want to do. This is an amazing opportunity for you.”
This Tobias Harris is something special, and not just because he’s averaging 17.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in six Pistons games.
Forget what he brings to the Pistons on the court, he’s a home run off the court. The entire city of Detroit won when the Pistons traded for him with the Orlando Magic.
He has been described as one of the most active, community-minded players in the NBA. Last March, he received the NBA Cares Community Assist Award. The day he was traded to the Pistons, he still attended a Black History event in Orlando. Because it was the right thing to do.
“I wish you guys nothing but the best,” Harris said. “I’m somebody who is a part of it now. I’m going to be here. I’m going to be hands on and be able to help you guys.”
This was the third organization that the Pistons have sponsored in Detroit this season. They have poured money into the Police Athletic League, S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center and now City Year at Osborn. And the Pistons are just getting started. Two or three more announcements could come by the end of the school year.
That’s something to celebrate. Give owner Tom Gores credit. He has unleashed Arn Tellem on the Motor City.
Tellem, a former sports agent who is now a Pistons executive, is trying to find ways to make a difference in the youth of Detroit, focusing on education and programs that offer mentoring, social support and guidance. The overall goal is better attendance, leading to better graduation rates.
“The Pistons are a community asset and we have a social responsibility,” Tellem said.
It won’t happen immediately. But it is fantastic what the Pistons are doing and how Harris is already involved.
“We aren’t going to solve these challenging problems alone, but we can make a difference,” Tellem said. “These are ripples of hope, and hopefully, like Bobby Kennedy said, ‘They can turn into a current.’ ”
Amen to that.