After spending 11 years in the NBA―nine with the New York Knicks, another with the Spurs and one final season with the Chicago Bulls,Trent Tucker has dedicated his life to making a difference as a philanthropist. An NBA Champion with Chicago Bulls in 1993, Tucker is a firm believer that education is an important steppingstone to a successful professional career, and has championed this cause since setting up his foundation 12 years ago.
In this first of a two-series interview, Ib Talk Online Executive Editor Ibrahim Dabo caught up with Tucker by telephone and had an enlightening discussion about his foundation and activities. Tucker also talked exclusively about his upcoming Dinner Party & Celebrity Golf Tournament on June 26 and June 27, respectively, in collaboration with the Children’s Cancer & Blood Foundation, the largest and oldest charitable organization in the United States committed to the care of children suffering from blood diseases and cancers.
IBRAHIM DABO: How did the Trent Tucker All 4 Kids Foundation come about?
TRENT TUCKER: The main reason I started the program about 12 years ago, [until 2010, the foundation was called The Trent Tucker Non-Profit Organization. Learn more] was to promote early college awareness for middle school kids and to get them thinking about their education and long term goals in terms of what good academics could do for them. Majority of the kids who grow up in the inner city environment may not always be thinking about the future of their education. I felt if I could provide the right opportunities and put them in front of the right resources, it would help give potential benefactors something different to look at for the first time. This will not only expand their way of thinking, but allow them to see things differently and get them to focus on what education can really mean to their future and how it can benefit their families down the road. And so in the last 12 years, we’ve been pretty successful in really focusing young people on the outcome of what education can mean for them as they move on throughout their lives.
IBRAHIM DABO: How important really is it to inspire young kids to focus on education and their future?
TRENT TUCKER: I think you have to be consistently involved with them on a daily basis and continue to show them why education is so important. There are a lot of good programs out there that might meet with the kids once a month or once every two months. They may not see the kids all the time but it makes a difference if you can do this a few days a week and continue to talk to them about the importance of education and also put them in front of people from different walks of life whose success has come from education. As you continue to teach the kids about this, it becomes ingrained into their thought process. They begin to realize that if they want to do something different and have a better life, even though they may not have the talent to be the athlete or musician, they will need to put their thoughts together in the right way to help them realize what education can do for them to be successful.
IBRAHIM DABO: Many successful professional athletes and celebrities have a significant influence on people, especially when it comes to making a difference. Have you in anyway experienced this with the kids you work with and inspire?
TRENT TUCKER: Being an ex-professional athlete can help because it allows you to get in through the door and the kids will listen to what you have to say just because of who you are and what you have done in life as an athlete. So that’s always an attention-getter for young people. But once you get in through the door, you have to convince and tell them what program you have in store for them. Once you make that promise that you are going to be there on a daily basis and continue to work with them through good and bad times,that’s when they begin to trust you and building trust with young people who come from all different walks of life, is the most important thing I believe any program can do. Once you gain their trust, it’s much easier for them to follow the programs or the desires that you have in place.
IBRAHIM DABO: What would you describe as your proudest achievement since setting up your foundation more than a decade ago?
TRENT TUCKER: There have been many wonderful surprises and some very good outcomes. Next spring, four kids who started with us about 10 to 12 years ago will graduate from college. There is another happy moment for us―80 percent of all the kids who are in the program today, those in the middle school age group, made the honor roll. These are happy moments for the entire staff because they worked so hard in preparing these young people on a daily basis to talk about the importance of doing what is right. The staff worked hard by having them experience certain scenarios where they had to think about their future and themselves, which is very important. And so to see that 80% of the kids who’ve come to the program are now on the honor roll is a wonderful thing for all of us.
IBRAHIM DABO: Congratulations to you and your staff, Trent, for all of your hard work and success. You mentioned some of the kids you have worked with will be graduating in the spring. Help us understand how your program works.
TRENT TUCKER: The major bulk is the middle school group. Once they finish middle school we’ve got to stick with them. We watch them as they go through high school and college. The ones who have gone through the program, found success and are doing some good things with their lives, come back and share their experiences with the new middle school kids who come in on a yearly basis. They talk to the young kids about what the program meant to them, how it has kept them on the right track and how it has given them a different outlook on how they can do things with their lives as soon as they become adults. My message is good, but it is always nice to get someone who is closer to their age as well to speak to them The difference in years between college freshmen or sophomores and a kid in the eighth grade, is not much at all. So their message resonates a little bit better because the new kids would almost easily identify with the person who is talking to them.
IBRAHIM DABO: Approximately how many kids do you work with on an annual basis?
TRENT TUCKER: We have the middle school kids―six, seven and eight grades―and we can do anywhere between 50 to 100 kids during the school year.
IBRAHIM DABO: What is the biggest challenge you encounter when working with these youngsters?
TRENT TUCKER: Sometimes the biggest challenges are not keeping the kids focused on their school work. It is making sure that some of the other surrounding factors they have to deal with on a daily basis are addressed. Such factors could be family issues and situations that could kick kids out of school or situations where they may not be able to maximize the best of their abilities. We try to not only help them with the educational piece but provide some assistance by being there to help them with some things outside of the school as well.
IBRAHIM DABO: What is your advice to young people who are struggling to find a meaningful life, let alone a need to focus on their education?
TRENT TUCKER: Staying in school is an easy thing for anyone to tell a young person, but showing them the importance of staying in school is the most important thing in my opinion. If you are going to drive that message home, you have to be out in front of the kids and show them exactly why it is important to do such things. You have to talk the talk, and walk the walk. You have to put yourself in the position where these kids would look up to you as a living example and see the value in what you are doing and what you have done. These basics can’t be compromised. It is important to get out there, interact with these young people and get to know them by listening to their stories. You can begin to develop a better plan that will produce rewarding results once you talk to these kids and hear some of their ideas.
. Exclusive Interview Part II: NBA Champion Trent Tucker to Host Celebrity Golf Tournament & Dinner Party in New York to Raise Funds for Charity
. EXCLUSIVE FEATURE: NBA Champion Trent Tucker to Host Welcome Dinner in New York City & Celebrity Golf Outing in New Jersey