Kobe Bryant is a boss. He may have torn his left Achilles, but that’s not stopping him from makin’ moves – moves for social good that is. The five-time NBA champion recently said “zài jiàn” (translation: goodbye) to 10 students from After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles , who will be participating in a two week educational tour through China. Thanks to the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation  (KVBFF), this is the third year that 10 young people have been able to take part in these Mandarin language and culture exchange programs.
We got the chance to talk Bryant about his recovery process, the work he’s doing with After-School All-Stars, and err a certain statue that was erected outside the Guangzhou Academy.
DoSomething.org: What moves are you planning for the future – both on and off the court?
Kobe Bryant: I am working on getting healthy again and really looking forward to winning another championship with my team.
DS: Thoughts on the Kobe statue that was erected outside the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts’ Sculpture Museum?
KB: I personally feel a strong connection to China – through both business and philanthropy – and it is an honor to be recognized there in this way. I’ve always felt a very warm welcome whenever I’ve visited China these past years and have a genuine love and appreciation for the country and my fans.
DS: What inspired you to launch the Mandarin language and culture programs with After-School All-Stars?
KB: After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles is an organization that I have been involved with for more than five years now. The programs make a difference for inner-city youths in LA. The comprehensive after-school activities and opportunities the organization offers to its students helps change their lives. The programs create a way for the kids to make it out of the inner-city and experience the world that exists outside its limits. Many people have not been inside deserving communities, but when you visit, you realize that the children in it are just limited to its confines.
After-School All-Stars helps make LA a better place, and I wanted to give back to a city that has given me wonderful life opportunities. Learning other cultures is extremely important to me and I saw a need for the students in its programs to do just that. After my experience in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, I became immersed in China and its culture. I was amazed by everything I encountered because it was so new. I value the warmth and openness of its people; I respect their commitment to tradition and hard work.
I thought it would be incredible to give the students in After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles programs the opportunity to learn about China and its culture, language and traditions. By bringing these programs to the kids at their schools, it is in essence, bringing the world to them.
DS: How has this program changed the lives of the 10 students who will be participating in this year’s tour? What about the lives of the Chinese students?
KB: Hundreds of Los Angeles students participate in the Mandarin language and culture programs with After-School All-Stars. Each summer, 10 students are selected for the China educational tour. Students are selected based on grades, attendance, and teacher and principal recommendations.
While engaging in the programs in LA and learning about another culture, it helps cultivate tolerance, respect and worldliness. This type of knowledge is also important in gang prevention. On the same note, while students in China learn the English language and prepare to meet American students, it helps them learn about a new culture and create an avenue for friendship.
DS: What makes this program so unique?
KB: Originally launched at three After-School All-Stars Los Angeles middle schools in the spring of 2010, the Mandarin programs expanded in 2011, and currently exist at seven high schools and one middle school. The programmatic objectives are language acquisition and orientation to Chinese culture. Students also learn the ancient martial art of wushu – the most popular national sport in China – led by World Champion wushu practitioner Master Hu Jianqiang. The programs continue to expand and grow each year. It is one of the only cultural programs of its kind offered to students from deserving communities.
The Mandarin language and culture programs are also in line with the President and First Lady Michelle Obama’s "100,000 Strong Initiative,” rooted in the importance of having young people in the United States build relationships with their peers in China and creating a mutual understanding around the world.
DS: What is one moment where you knew you were making a difference?
KB: For the past few years, each group of students who were selected to participate in the China educational tour have been affected immensely. Speaking to the children after their journey was complete has been incredibly inspiring. Students speak about their experiences attending classes at a Chinese university, forming lasting friendships with their Chinese classmates, visiting national monuments in China, climbing The Great Wall, such incredible experiences! To know that the work of the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation helped to enable these opportunities for Los Angeles students is very humbling.
Promote understanding with education. GO