I've spent my entire life traveling back and forth to Mississippi. No, I'm not from there. But as my parents always told me, that's Home. They were born there, as were their parents before them, their parents before them and so on. At an early age the notion of Home was embedded in them, like a chip, and they embedded it in me. The small towns. The farm to table meals. The mosquitoes. The dirt broke economy. The highways, 61, 82,45. The community. The struggle for equality. That's Home. Our house and the city where my parents actually made a living was in St. Louis. Yet, we called another place Home. Three day weekend? We went Home. Summertime? We went Home. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, family vacation? Whenever it was remotely possible to go there, we went there – Home.
Home isn't always where you live and sometimes it's not even where you're from. I think Home is a place you feel you owe a debt. Anytime a community births you, builds you or boosts you to higher heights, you undoubtedly feel some sense of gratitude and debt. That's why you go back. Sure, our trips Home were about reconnecting, fellowshipping with family and embracing familiar faces. But those trips were also about more than that. They were also about helping out – moving chairs across town, helping to paint a school, gutting someone's burned down house, sending food in preparation of a funeral, etc. And in instances when someone was down on their luck, I distinctly recall standing in the distance, unable to hear the depths of the conversation, but watching intently as one of my parents slipped someone some cash on the humble. That wasn't about an individual relationship, as much as a small attempt to payback the wealth of influence a community has had on your life.
"I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile." - Lebron James
Undoubtedly, the more successful you are, the more it means to people when you return Home. There's a huge difference between going Home to get back up on your feet, and returning Home having done your community proud. At my grandparent's houses, when the family went Home, there was a large collection of new cars with Northern license plates lined up out front. To the natives walking by, it was like seeing their own return hoisting championship banners. People they had grown up with had left for the "big" city and conquered it. They had carved out a better life for themselves and their families. There was real interest in the many different routes they had taken to achieve that success. And make no mistake, that success gave those who remained hope. If the very people they had grown up with had made it, so could they, whether they ever left Home or not. The living example stood right before them, they too could be champions.
Recently, the world's best basketball player shunned an opportunity to continue living in the glitz and glamour of Miami, to return Home. Almost immediately I saw cynical reactions. "Cleveland?" "Who moves from Miami to Cleveland?" "Lebron is dumb, that makes no sense." I found those comments and many like them superficial, short sided and very reflective of people who don't understand the meaning of Home. Like my parent's before me, I too have made many sacrifices for Home. Not only am I connected to my family's ancestral home of Mississippi, I'm also connected to the place I grew up, St. Louis. I've never lived there as an adult. College, post grad and my career in corporate America have all taken me on a journey away from Home. But as I watched co-workers take exotic island or European trips over the years, I was constantly stacking my precious vacation days to simply return Home. For me, I was sacrificing the world for my world. You can't put a price on attending a wedding, funeral, family/class reunion, Thanksgiving dinner – play time with the next generation of cousins or driving a half hour past a thousand barber shops just to pull up to one owned by family. These things are priceless.
I'm not saying don't travel. Travel opens the mind and changes the perceptions we have of the world, and often, that the world has of us. As ambassadors of Home, we owe it to ourselves to touch as many different people and places as we can. It's important the lasting views of those who come in contact with us spread and add substance to the narrative surrounding Home. After spending nine and a half years in Michigan, I consider Detroit my second Home. I entered that place with an outsider's perception, one based mostly on stereotypes and generalizations. But the countless Detroiters I interacted with intimately, made sure I saw it as something more than a city full of flaws. They made sure my eyes were open to the beauty of what it truly was – Home.
Maybe it's time we start to challenge our perspectives. Superstars like Lebron James aren't just superstars. They're real people who come from real places. And communities like Cleveland and Akron aren't just non-glamorous cities. They're Home for a lot of smart, talented, good people. This story is far beyond basketball, this is about Home. And Home comes in a lot of different forms for a lot of different people. So instead of criticizing people who live in front of cameras, it's time to start focusing on those who don't. It's time you start asking, what are you doing for Home? What influence are you having on the people there? What connections are you keeping alive and strengthening? When is the last time you slid Home a helping hand on the humble? Lebron is returning Home a champion, fully dedicated to repaying his debt. The real question is, are you? One luv.