The 2021 NFL draft began Thursday, April 29. While many highly eager athletes were surrounded by loved ones as they waited to learn the next step of their football careers, former University of Alabama star running back Najee Harris parked himself right at the homeless shelter where he once lived.
Before being chosen as the No. 24 overall draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harris celebrated by providing pizza and tons of other treats for the children at the homeless shelter Great Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) in Richmond, California.
Harris told KRON 4’s Kylen Mills that he, his parents, and four older siblings all lived in a small room at the shelter in 2010 while struggling with homelessness. “Doing this really makes me and my family feel better,” the 23-year-old explained. “It’s a subject, especially in the Bay Area, that needs to get shed light on. The more that we are together, the more we can make everything happen, especially in good ways.”
The party included pizza, chicken, football-themed decorations, cupcakes, and goodie bags. Harris also took photos with staff and families who live there.
The executive director at GRIP, Kathleen Sullivan, spoke highly of the athlete, who was a 12-year-old when he arrived at the center with his family. Sullivan told the news outlet that the burgeoning star’s mother was “instrumental in getting him and all those children through what would normally be the most horrific experience of their lives.”
Harris described his family’s visit to the shelter to reporters as an emotional one, stating, “It was almost as if she was crying in a way.” He added, “We have a lot of memories here.” The athlete revealed he and his family moved 8 to 10 times before he graduated from Antioch High School. He later went on to have significant success at Alabama, breaking the school’s rushing record.
Still, Harris said his visit to the shelter was only a fraction of the bigger picture. “Doing this really makes me and my family feel better, just giving appreciation and everything. It’s a subject, especially in the Bay Area, that needs to get shed light on. The more that we are together, the more we can make everything happen, especially in good ways.” He added, “You know for me moving up, I’m getting more attention, more cameras and stuff, that’s good. Because it’s shedding more light on the situation.”
The running back revealed he had plans to open a nonprofit organization in Richmond to continue helping his community. “There was a time I needed a hand. They gave us an opportunity to get back on our feet,” he said. “So it is my job to give back.”
Harris assisted Alabama in winning the 2017 and 2020 college football national championships. He also earned the 2020 Doak Walker Award, annually given to college football’s best running back.