OAKLAND (KPIX) -- Kids are heading back to school after a challenging year working from home and, on Saturday in East Oakland, there were free backpacks and some encouragement from a Golden State Warrior who is very familiar with the neighborhood.
Backpack giveaways are common this time of year but the one at Oakland's Elmhurst Middle School drew a huge crowd that stretched down the block. That's because it also offered inspiration from one of the neighborhood's native sons: Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson.
"Juan actually grew up two blocks away from here so he's literally from this neighborhood," said his girlfriend, Arrianna Duarte. "So that's why he wanted to host the event here at the school he used to go to."
Toscano-Anderson established his "Journey to Achieve Foundation" in January and he was a finalist to be this year's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion in the NBA.
Duarte manages JTA's foundation and organized Saturday's event, which included a DJ, a free lunch, school swag including new earbuds and free haircuts to send kids back to campus in style and feeling sharp.
"Gotta look good, feel good, work good, you know -- get good grades!" said barber Mark De Guzman as he worked.
The real draw was Toscano-Anderson himself. Now bigger than life, he grew up in the neighborhood idolizing NBA players but always from a distance.
"Those guys seem so far removed and they seemed like they were just in another world from the world that I grew up in," he said.
Now that he's one of them, Toscano-Anderson is acutely aware of his status as a role model to kids and what his signature on a basketball can mean to an 11-year-old like Christopher Ojeda.
"Yeah, he sets a good example to always push, even through hard times, and also to always work hard," Ojeda said.
These have been hard times for kids and it will take hard work to rise above them but Toscano-Anderson, a guy from their block, is helping them to imagine a life beyond the block.
"I want to add to that positivity," he said. "I want to reinforce those ideas that, for these kids, the world is bigger than what they know. It's bigger than their neighborhood, it's bigger than Oakland. So, just any way I can help, man, I'm always willing to do that."
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