Kyle Kuzma Visits Michigan Jail to Speak with and Donate to Female Inmates: 'This Is My Community' |

Kyle Kuzma Visits Michigan Jail to Speak with and Donate to Female Inmates: ‘This Is My Community’

‘Tis the season of giving and Kuz is off to an amazing start.

via: People

On Monday, Kyle Kuzma and his Family Foundation announced a powerful new partnership to benefit women in jail in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

The 2020 NBA champion, 28, will work with Flint-founded programs I.G.N.I.T.E and R.I.S.E to improve living conditions and provide essential resources for successful reentry into society.

To launch the long-term collaboration between the NBA star and the reform programs, Kuzma and his mother, Karri, surprised the audience at I.G.N.I.T.E’s 23rd graduation ceremony at the Genessee County Jail in Michigan on Sunday.

The Flint native delivered the ceremony’s commencement speech, and afterward, the graduates were invited to a holiday party where they received gifts and a selection of clothes from Kuzma’s donation to inspire confidence and help them with self-care upon their reentry into the community.

Kuzma tells PEOPLE he “just spoke from the heart” when preparing his commencement address. “I just kept it real simple,” he says, adding, “I think for me, it was all about acknowledging these women having accomplishments.”

The NBA star explains, “A lot of times, these women have been abused, have been down pretty rough paths in their lives, and no one’s ever probably told them they did a good job or that they’re valuable, and for them to be here, that’s giving hope.”

“My experience today was amazing and really, very eye-opening,” Kuzma says. “For us and our foundation just to be around the female inmates was very touching for us. Even to be a small part of it and seeing the impact of what the program meant to their growth and self-development was unbelievable.”

Kuzma describes his hometown of Flint, Mich. as “a very rough place” with a “tight-knit community,” and he recalls facing “temptations” as a result of poverty.

“It’s a very blue-collar place,” Kuzma explains. “For me, as a kid growing up, it was easy because I didn’t think about those temptations or about being in poverty. I was a kid, and I just enjoyed basketball.”

The Washington Wizard says, “This is my community. You’ve got these people that are in jail, people that I and others have relationships with, from my community as well, and when you think about inmates, jails, that’s usually a forgotten space in society.”

The athlete’s mother, Karri Kuzma, visited with the graduates and their families during Sunday’s ceremony. “He never ceases to amaze me,” Karri tells PEOPLE of the impact her son is making.

The Kyle Kuzma Family Foundation’s tree-of-life-inspired logo was Karri’s idea, and she says it’s meant to represent “changes” and “growing roots” to inspire the organization’s mission. “Seeing the moms get emotional after being able to see their kids made it hard for me not to start crying,” Karri, who is also a mom to the NBA star’s younger siblings, Andre and Briana, tells PEOPLE.

“I just can’t imagine not seeing my kids.”

The Kyle Kuzma Family Foundation said it will work to upgrade and refurbish inmate housing as part of the partnership, and Kuzma says this is especially overdue for incarcerated women.

“The housing was a big focus for us because especially with women in jail, people really don’t know about the living conditions and what they’re really like,” says Kuzma.

He continues, “If you’ve never really been in a jail, you really wouldn’t understand how these people are living in there. You know what I mean? So the biggest thing for us is obviously just being able to just uplift the housing and to make it a little better.”

“Being in this reform space is huge to me,” says Kuzma, and he hopes to find more ways to improve conditions of jails for the women before they are transferred to prisons.

On Saturday, Kyle Kuzma had 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 12 points in a tough loss for the Washington Wizards against Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks. On Monday, the Wizards will join Kuzma in Michigan for their matchup against the Detroit Pistons.

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