Ramon Sessions is well aware of the struggle.
The obstacles many youth in Myrtle Beach are facing these days are the same ones the professional basketball player encountered growing up in the Racepath community.
“I knew growing up in these streets that one right or wrong turn, you could end up in the wrong place,” said Sessions, who was in town Saturday for his annual turkey drive in Racepath.
Unfortunately, unlike Sessions, many area youth have gone down the wrong road.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
In fact, in the past year, crime has been at the forefront of many minds, including political leaders who are coming up with solutions they hope will better the city’s image.
Sessions, who lives in Atlanta while not on the road for the New York Knicks, says he’s been keeping tabs on his hometown.
“I keep up on it more than a lot of people know or more than what I tell people,” he said. “I’m really into, I guess you could say, the politics side of things. I’m getting to understand kind of how things work. I know they’re in a runoff right now with Mayor [John] Rhodes and [challenger] Brenda [Bethune], so I’ve been on top of it. I definitely plan on reaching out to whoever becomes the winner.
“I seriously plan on sitting down and talking with them to try and figure out what we can do in this city to make it to where the kids have something to look forward to.”
Some of the major issues deal with what to do with the downtown Superblock and how to clean up crime, which garnered national attention this summer when a shooting on Ocean Boulevard was caught on Facebook Live.
Sessions said he is in favor of of a youth friendly downtown area. The city announced earlier this year plans to build a library and children’s museum downtown, but according to Rhodes, nothing is set in stone at this point.
Sessions, 31, meanwhile, has been doing his part. Last fall he donated $250,000 toward a new facility for the Boys and Girls Club of the Grand Strand, a plan that the organization’s CEO, Dione Buonto, said Saturday likely will break ground in the first quarter of 2018.
“I think that if you provide kids 13-18 a place to go and stuff for them to do, it’s going to eliminate their need to go find something to do in the streets — the gang activity, the drug activity,” Buonto said. “Helping them with school will give them confidence and decrease the behavioral aspect of disciplinary action at school. Attendance is going to increase. I think with Ramon’s contribution and everyone else in the community, it’s just a great thing to get kids together.”
Sessions annually holds the turkey drive, a toy drive and a youth basketball camp. On Saturday, he announced another charitable cause, the Sessions Challenge. He’s donating $30,000 toward the renovation of the Myrtle Beach boys and girls basketball teams’ locker rooms while challenging the players and the community to help raise the rest for the project, which Buonto estimated to have a final cost of $80,000 or $100,000.
“Ramon has been a blessing to Myrtle Beach High School from the time he was a student to when he was in college to when he was in the NBA as well,” Myrtle Beach High School Athletic Director John Cahill said, adding that Sessions has also provided the squads with shoes and warmups in recent years. “Ramon and his mom have talked with [boys] coach [Craig] Martin, [girls] coach [Jessica] Dennis and myself the past few years about the possibility of doing something like this. We’re just excited the announcement was made today.”
Sessions said the cutoff date for donations is June 30, when he will be holding his annual basketball camp, and, hopefully, soon after, the renovations can be complete for the 2018-19 basketball season.
“They’re just sort of outdated,” O’Neil McBride, a senior on the boys basketball team, said of the locker rooms’ current state. “The lockers could be repainted because they’re scuffed up. Some of the lockers are actually broken, the locks don’t work. The ground needs to be redone, kind of dirty, old brick.”
While McBride will have graduated by the time the locker rooms are in place, he’s still excited about the project.
“I thought it was some of the greatest news we’ve had in a while,” he said. “I’m just ready to see the renovations that are coming next and come back and see what he’s doing with the program.”
While Sessions’ contributions to the community can be calculated monetarily, others have come without a price tag.
“We love Ramon and we love what he’s doing for the community, especially for the seniors,” said Marilyn Simmons, a Racepath resident. “The way he’s giving back to his community that he was raised up in [is great]. And the seniors — and myself — we love it. And the kids love it because he’s very [important] for the children; they look up to him. [His events are] something that they can look forward to because someone like him came out of this community and he thrived and they would like to do that too.”
Sessions has played for eight teams throughout his 11-year NBA career and has run into many players along the way, and they all are fans of this city.
“The crime is unreal [right now], but everybody I talk to on every team I’ve played for loves Myrtle Beach,” he said. “They say ‘Oh, you’re from Myrtle Beach. Great vacation, this and that.’ It’s one of those things that I feel like we can make Myrtle Beach that type of place that where, when kids graduate high school, they don’t have to run off and leave and go somewhere else and work.”
The City of Myrtle Beach is a place Sessions takes great pride in, and he said he’s willing to do as much as he can to help leaders in the challenges they face moving forward. And Sessions knows from personal experience that it starts with the youth.
“I just want the kids to know that, man, we’re looking out for the kids,” Sessions said. “The kids are the future around here and the more we’ll be able to do and put stuff out in the city for them, I feel like it’ll help what’s going on — the negativity. Every city you go to has negativity. I’m not saying Myrtle Beach is going to be a perfect, perfect place, but I feel like the growth of what’s going on in the community — I feel like the sky’s the limit for this city and I just want to be a part of it.”