NORFOLK, Va. - Steven Whitley shoots baskets at Norfolk's Sherwood Forest Elementary School, where he played basketball as a child.
As is the case for many athletes, the basketball court served as an escape.
"We grew up out here where it was gunshots, fights, you don’t know if you’re gonna get home," Whitley said. "It was tough."
Whitley's childhood experiences, coupled with the leadership skills he's developed on the court, are key factors in his transformation into the activist he's become in recent months.
"Since we was 13, 14 years old, that’s all he’s talked about is giving back to the community and wanting to help out," LaDarein Autry said about his cousin, Whitley.
Since the pandemic cut his season season at Norfolk State University short, Whitley's spent time taking an in-depth look at his community, in search of ways to transform it for the better.
On July 11 he organized a rally and March against police brutality and racial inequality. The following weekend he led the Unity Walk hosted by the 757 Student-Athlete Coalition for Social Change.
"A lot of people aren’t in the best positions to lead," Whitley said. "The ones that are need to step up and lead on other people's behalf as well as their own."
Whitley followed up last months activism by hosting a fundraiser last Friday, raising more than three thousand dollars for local food banks. He has no plan on stopping his activism any time soon and continues to talk with different age groups in the community for insight on ways it can be improved.
As Whitley looks back on his younger self who spent his days on the Sherwood basketball courts, he hopes to be a positive influence on the generations that come after him.
"These kids need somebody to gravitate to, to look up to," Whitley said. "A lot of the times in their home some people might not have that. When you’re in their life, when you’re caring you’re giving them something to look forward to. You're giving them a different choice instead of going down a path that might not be the best path for them."