Slamson was the first to arrive, and a place heavy in harrowing hardship and fortitude erupted in cheers.
On Monday afternoon, the furry, energetic Kings mascot bounded into the Women’s Empowerment center in downtown Sacramento, where the motto is “ending homelessness one woman at a time.” Slamson offered high-fives, hugs and a general good vibe to women putting their lives back together. Some had children enjoying the scene.
Then came Rudy Gay, the Kings’ 6-foot-8 forward who towered over everyone but otherwise connected on an eye-to-eye level as a champion of community impact.
Gay wanted to be there, asked to be there. The Kings and their Community Coalition and Foundation also wanted Gay there as an example of compassion within the community. The Kings tipped off their 15th annual Season of Doing Good, continuing their commitment to reaching out to the region throughout the holiday season, and Gay was the opening act.
Gay, Slamson, a crew of Kings Foundation staffers and Sacramento Police Department members engaged in a holiday meal donation. Gay signed autographs, took pictures and sat with women to talk – not about basketball, but about life.
“This,” said an excited 11-year-old boy gazing at Gay and Slamson, “is the best day of my whole life!”
Later Monday, there was another uplifting scenario when Kings forward Matt Barnes helped give away holiday meals to families in the Oak Park and South Sacramento neighborhoods. On Tuesday, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins helped donate 300 meals at the Robertson Community Center. The All-Star later made surprise visits to homes in Del Paso Heights.
This all pleased coach Dave Joerger. The Kings, after all, are more than big bodies who rebound and shoot jumpers. They have big hearts, too.
“Rudy’s a wonderful human being; we’ve got a lot of good dudes here,” Joerger said. “Matt Barnes did some nice things, and DeMarcus is very involved. Players love to live here, love to be in the community.”
Gay took a moment Monday to explain why this hits home. The Baltimore native came from a broken family, the youngest of four children and the only boy. Some of his sisters are single mothers. The specter of drugs and violence loomed near their home. He lost family and friends to such dangers.
Gay’s wife, Ecko Wray, his sweetheart since their teens, joined him Monday. She was raised by a single father.
“Being here is really important to Rudy,” she said. “Women have always been so big in his life – mom, grandmother, aunt, sisters.”
“This really is real life here,” Gay said, looking around the room and noticing a wall of photos of Women’s Empowerment graduates who detailed their struggles and, often, their success in finding peace and employment.
The center, according to its brochure, “educates and empowers women, who are homeless, with the skills and confidence necessary to secure a job, create a healthy lifestyle ... .” The backdrop to Slamson and Gay in the front room was a wall that included signs reading, “Women of History” and “No Shame Zone.” The wall also featured a collage of photos of influential women throughout American history, including Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks.
“This event is dear to me,” Gay said. “I feel obligated. It’s close to my heart. ... Women and children are the birth of this world, our roots. And right here, this is where a lot of lives start over. The women here, they have to graduate from here, and they have a chance to be productive in society and to set a great example to their kids.”
More than 40 graduates of Women’s Empowerment were hired by Golden 1 Center last summer, including as ushers and concession-stand and maintenance workers. Scott Moak, the Kings Foundation executive director who doubles as the team’s public address announcer, has worked closely with Women’s Empowerment executive director Lisa Culp. Both praised Gay.
“Rudy is great with this sort of thing,” Moak said. “Some of these women have been on the streets, have lived tough lives, domestic abuse, substance abuse, the worst things you can imagine, and Rudy being here made their day.”
Said Culp, “We’re changing lives here, helping, and having Rudy Gay really boosts a lot of spirits. We’re so thankful and appreciative.”