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Branden Dawson

Lew Wallace grad and former Los Angeles Clippers player Branden Dawson handed out 200 backpacks and school supplies to Gary youth on Sunday.

Branden Dawson can't understand hatred.

The increasing gun violence in Chicago and his hometown of Gary makes him sad, then angry.

America is more divided than ever and this professional basketball player sees it, feels it, every day of his young life.

TV coverage of Saturday's ugly confrontation between white nationalists and protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, was difficult to watch as both sides clashed with murder in their eyes.

"Honestly, I think it's gotten worse," Dawson said. "People shouldn't hate anyone. We're all equal.

"We should be showing our kids it's not one race against another. We should grow up and be mature."

A four-year standout for coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State and then as a rookie playing sparingly for Doc Rivers' loaded Los Angeles Clippers team, Dawson didn't experience racism as an athlete or a celebrity.

He is re-booting his NBA career by signing with the Hitachi Sunrockers of the Japan Basketball Association.

"I've been all around the world so I'm kinda optimistic when it comes to different ethnic groups," Dawson said. "But when you walk into a restaurant, they do stare at you. They look. What can you do?

"Just don't be disrespectful and go about your day."

Other countries have a front-row seat to the growing turmoil in America. My guess is most shake their heads in disgust.

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"Honestly, I think much of (the hatred) comes from what people see on TV and the news," Dawson said. "The crime rate in Gary and Chicago is ridiculous. They have guns and they're doing stuff out of hate.

"People talk about black lives matter and white lives matter, but we're all equal and we're killing ourselves."

Dawson held a back-to-school event Sunday at Indiana University Northwest, handing out 200 free backpacks with pencils and notebooks to Gary students at the elementary, middle school and high school levels.

From noon to 2 p.m., a constant flow of parents and their children came through the front doors.

It was a happy, enjoyable afternoon for all.

"This is basically to help the kids," Dawson said. "We didn't have this when we were growing up. No one ever did any of this. For me, you should never forget where you came from. This city has been great to me ever since I was a little boy.

"Our youth is our future. Our youth is everything. It starts with us being role models and giving back."

Sunday was about much more than basketball.

It was about getting along and putting your differences aside.

"I've never been judgmental," Dawson said. "Social media now ... all these kids have phones. They have Twitter. They see what's going on, and we adults have to show them a better way in leading by example."

Those 200 backpacks and ensuing smiles were just the first step in their very long, challenging journey.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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