FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — In his storied athletic career, Rashod Kent accomplished something very few individuals have ever done before. After playing major college basketball for Rutgers, he switched sports and played in the National Football League.
The former Fairmont Senior High standout averaged 9.5 points per game during his four collegiate basketball seasons with the Scarlet Knights, but upon graduation he signed with the NFL’s Houston Texans and later the Oakland Raiders.
Kent, now 40, and retired from athletic competition, returned to Windmill Park on Saturday, but this time as the face of the Rashod Kent Foundation, a nonprofit organization he formed this year in order to give back to a local community he said played a crucial role in his formative years.
Kent and dozens of helpers — local basketball team members and citizen volunteers, each clad in white RKF sweatshirts and face masks — distributed 150 sets of winter coats, hats and gloves to local children.
For families in need, Kent’s foundation also gave away 100 frozen turkeys to allow families to celebrate the Thanksgiving meal.
“I grew up in this neighborhood. In this very park is where I learned the aerial devastation that I could cause. This place means the world to me. That court right there, Jackson Addition. I’m a Dish Kid, so this is really important to me,” Kent said. “To bring the community out and bring us together for a cause to put turkeys on tables and clothes on kids’ backs in a time of need is the greatest feeling I’ve had in a long time.”
Kent said the motivation for creating his foundation and giving back to his hometown stems from a promise he made to his grandmother shortly before her death.
“I lost my grandmother to COVID-19 this past March. Before her untimely demise, I promised her some things I intended to do for the community. Once she was called home, it really motivated me to do what I needed to do within the community and for these kids,” he said. “God placed it on my heart. I can’t explain why He’s using me as a vehicle, but I can’t stop until the mission is complete.”
Kent resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida these days, but said he makes several trips home to Fairmont each year. In a time of societal tensions, he said a goal of his foundation is to foster community harmony.
“In order to champion change, you have to become the change you want to see,” he said. “We just want to give these kids an opportunity, given this social climate, to have the best chance at success, to give them an equal opportunity to become successful.”
“We want to teach kids to lift as they climb and to be color blind but still remain colorful. What we’re doing today is showing each other how to take care of one another, how to love each other, how to be there for one another,” he said.
Kent said he had mentors while growing up in Fairmont and feels it’s his duty to serve as a role model for young people today.
“I feel our foundation gives the people — our community, our kids — a chance to be heard and to use our resources to become whomever it is they want to be when they grow up,” he said. “There were opportunities I was allotted, so I want to bring those resources back here so these kids can have a better chance at being successful.”
One of Kent’s mentors as a young man was Corey Hines.
Today, Hines is the head coach of the Fairmont Senior High School girls’ basketball team. Hines remains close to Kent, who asked him to play a major role in the Rashod Kent Foundation.
“I watched Rashod grow from a kid to a man. When Rashod came to me with the idea of starting his foundation, he asked me if I’d be a part of it and I said by all means I would. Because anytime someone wants to do something positive, I want to be part of that,” Hines said.
Hines said Kent’s foundation is about fostering respect and community service.
“During this time in our country that seems so divided with everyone going through these different issues and trying to make it all about politics, we’re trying to show it really doesn’t matter what political views you have or what religious views you have. We feel as a community we need to come together and do what’s right. And we feel what’s right is helping out these kids,” Hines said.
“Some people are really in need of coats and turkeys. It’s especially rough during the holidays. Even if it’s just for a moment, we want to try to ease some peoples’ pain,” Hines said.
Kent said foundation members and local community leaders like Hines, Tiffany Walker Samuels and others are vital to executing his vision of positivity.
“Fortunately for me, I have a team comprised of a consortium of philanthropists who share the same vision, so it’s easy to come together and make things happen for the kids,” he said. “If ever there was the need for change — in our community, for our kids, for our people who need a voice and a place and a platform to be heard — it’s now.”