The child of Haitian immigrants, Marie Ferdinand-Harris grew up in Miami with few resources and describes her high school as significantly under-resourced. But she had basketball talent and was determined to turn that into opportunity. She earned an athletic scholarship to Louisiana State University and was a first-round draft pick in the 2001 WNBA Draft.
Over the course of her 11-year professional basketball career in the WNBA and overseas, she learned to be a better teammate and pay more attention to details. She instilled that in her three sons, and her oldest, CJ, born in 2006, took it to heart. Even though Ferdinand-Harris and husband Cedric Harris were able to buy their kids new clothes and shoes, CJ saw many of his friends couldn’t afford that, so he preferred to dress down for school.
CJ tragically died last year after an accident, and Ferdinand-Harris is intent on keeping his light shining through the #BeLikeCJ Foundation, which on Aug. 28 held a #BacktoSchool Clothing Giveaway in the Texarkana, Arkansas community where the family lives.
“I love sharing his story, and I love working for CJ,” said Ferdinand-Harris. “CJ didn’t want to make himself look more important. He didn’t care about the worldly stuff. He wanted to make a difference in the school and be there for the kids who were excluded. I thought, what better way to honor CJ than to do a clothing giveaway.”
She and her two younger sons gathered up shoes and clothes they no longer wear. Then, Ferdinand-Harris called her friends and asked them to do the same. “The day of the event, my husband and I were walking around and seeing countless shoes,” she recalled. “He said, ‘We’re going to bless a lot of people’s lives today.’”
People came throughout the day and took shoes, clothes and backpacks. One of the missions of the foundation is to bring joy and inspiration to the lives of others while bridging the gap between people of different backgrounds. They also plan to develop digital curriculum about anti-bullying, respect and goal setting.
On Nov. 3, the foundation is holding a fundraiser dinner that will include a raffle with cash prizes. Information is available at belikecj.org. Ferdinand-Harris described it as an evening of fellowship. There will be food, drinks and a disc jockey to create an upbeat mood.
“It’s a family-oriented event,” said Ferdinand-Harris. “We’ll tell them about the foundation and what we’re doing and eat, laugh, enjoy the music and dance.”