Montreal·Black Changemakers

How Denburk Reid is helping guide the next generation of Montrealers

The effort to help kids in his community started out with a basketball program 15 years ago. Now, Denburk Reid runs a foundation dedicated to empowering youth.

Reid's efforts to help kids in his community started with basketball, and now extend beyond sports

Denburk Reid says that while growing up he had several mentors who kept him focused and motivated. Now, he's paying it forward, and doing the same for today's kids. (Tom Reynolds)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

Even while Denburk Reid was in the midst of a Hall of Fame basketball career at McGill University, his neighbourhood was never far from his mind.

Reid grew up playing hoops on the courts in Little Burgundy, where he lived after immigrating to Canada from Jamaica when he was five years old.

As a university student, he would return to those courts to give pointers to the next generation of players, and invite them to games. Those visits sparked an idea.

He started the Red Rush Basketball Leadership Program in 2006 to give young players access to coaching and mentorship. He would bring them to McGill so they could walk through the campus and get a glimpse of campus life.

It started with 18 kids, and now almost 300 take part, playing basketball across the U.S. and Canada, while being encouraged to keep their grades up and give back to their community.

"We're trying to help them use basketball as a tool to get to a higher level, to envision what they can do for themselves at a higher level, outside of their regular thinking," he said.

Reid is a big believer in the power of sports. Time management, stress management, anger management, teamwork, introspection, confidence, the importance of diversity — playing a sport is a way to learn all those skills, which are crucial for an athlete. They're also key skills for kids to have as they go out into the world, he said.

The coaches who work with the participants of the Red Rush program are called mentors, because that is the mindset Reid wants them to have when they're dealing with the kids, he said.

"In order for us to build future leaders, and positive citizens in the community and future professionals … you've got to want to be something, and we're going to help you to become that something," he said.

As befits a highly competitive person, Reid says passion and drive kept him focused, but a large number of people — coaches, mentors, family members — helped him along the way.

One day in 2011, Reid started thinking about the people who encouraged him on his path. While attending the funeral of his good friend Paul "Bad News Brown" Frappier, he heard people talking about all the good things the hip-hop artist had done, but found it deeply upsetting Frappier wasn't around to receive the praise.

Then he started wondering if he had ever really thanked the people in his life for everything they had given him.

Another seed was planted. And in order to ensure those working to better the community get their flowers and applause before it's too late, he started the Montreal Community Cares Awards.

The awards honour student-athletes, community leaders, organizations, and pillars of the community.

He created the Montreal Community Cares Foundation, which oversees the awards, as well as Red Rush and other programs for young people, in 2012.

Reid said giving today's youth opportunities to think and to interact with different cultures is what will ultimately lead to change.

That way, he said, "when they grow up, they're growing up with a different way of thinking. They've grown up with their eyes wide open to the possibilities that exist and not not just in a tight box."

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Read more stories here.

Written by Kamila Hinkson, with files from Rowan Kennedy