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Kevin Garnett, Devean George and Charles Johnson honored for their charitable efforts

Philanthropist Christal Jackson praises the retired professional athletes for their work in communities of color

When historically black college grad, award-winning philanthropist and author Christal Jackson realized her life’s calling was to empower those who give back to the community, she knew she was on to something.

“What I recognized over the years is that there are a lot of people that want to do good,” she said. “Oftentimes they don’t know what to do. They can also go further with a partner. We wanted to create a community that supported the work of innovators and social entrepreneurs, but also the new component to our work was around venture [capitalists].”

Since 2001, she has helped other philanthropists continue their work through her organization Head and Heart Philanthropy, an agency focused on improving social, economic and educational outcomes for communities of color.

In 2017, she launched Mosaic Genius, a worldwide social impact agency that connects emerging and established venture capitalists in communities of color.

At Mosaic Genius’ 2018 inaugural event in Washington, D.C., Jackson honored three major sports figures for their work in communities of color: NBA champions Kevin Garnett and Devean George and longtime Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson have one thing in common.

“Where they all connect is around their work in affordable housing,” Jackson said.

Each of the retired professional athletes has his own business and foundations, and together they’ve merged to form CGG (Charles, Garnett and George), through which they are building affordable housing all across the country. Each building has a minimum of 100 to 150 units.

After 11 seasons in the NBA and three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, George continued a passion that started during his years in the league. George’s foundation, Building Blocks, focuses on academic enrichment of young students, affordable housing and community development. It’s the charitable subsidiary of his real estate company, George Group North, which specializes in multifamily residential development, mixed-use projects, and property redevelopment and management. George serves as president and CEO of George Group North and executive director of Building Blocks.

“Playing in the NBA was definitely a privilege, and every time I returned home to Minneapolis, I knew that I had to give back,” George said. “So I launched my foundation that has a growing after-school program where we touch lives daily. Now the opportunity to add housing as a way to improve the quality of life for families is so rewarding.”

NFL free agent Johnson has spent his 12-year pro football career with the Panthers. He runs a scholarship fund through his Charles Johnson Foundation.

“He’s awarded out of his own pocket over $320,000 worth of scholarships,” Jackson said. “And then he’s going into the seventh year of hosting a sports and academic camp in his hometown of Hawkinsville, Georgia. It’s two days of sports and STEM, and he hosts over 1,200 children.”

“I’ve always wanted to give back even before I had my first NFL contract,” Johnson said. “This year, I hit my $1 million giving mark and want to do more. Now as an impact investor, providing affordable housing for families is an investment that’s really making a difference.”

Garnett, an NBA champion and superstar, formed 4XL: A Kevin Garnett Foundation, which he started during his 21-season stint in the league.

Jackson was thrilled to honor the three men, whom she’s been working with through Mosaic Genius.

“They could be doing tons of other things, but they feel really strongly about this,” Jackson said. “We wanted to recognize them for being great citizens and philanthropists.”

After forming CGG, the three men worked to create stability around their housing.

“So they felt like, which is true, children need safe, clean and stable housing,” Jackson said. “And so they’ve been able to create, through this collective, provide that opportunity for a lot of young people around the country and their families. Their development projects are beautiful.”

Jackson and those in her organization believe if money and resources can be placed in the hands of venture capitalists of color, those dollars are sure to trickle down to the community.

“If you can identify a venture capitalist of color, and not necessarily box them into impact work, but if they have access to capital, they’re going to identify those entrepreneurs in underserved communities that have the lived experience to help them sort of navigate the world and become successful entrepreneurs,” she said.

The Spelman College graduate attributes her passion for community service to her ties at the historically black college in Atlanta.

“When I got to college, I thought my career would be one thing. This shifted to something else. Then I went to Duke Divinity School and just really realized that there was a gap in advocacy and social impact. And what I mean by a gap is there weren’t many people of color in leadership positions …”

Jackson says attending a historically black college or university (HBCU) was the icing on the cake.

“I don’t think that I would have the leadership skills or the confidence. In some ways, a lot of the knowledge came from attending an HBCU. Spelman does a great job of providing mentoring opportunities for students.”

For Jackson, lifting up individuals who impact others and connecting people from diverse backgrounds is important.

“I think connecting them and allowing them to have a place to sort of create out of lived experience is a huge gift,” Jackson said. “I think the main thing I always want people to know is don’t go at it alone.”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.