He made the difficult decision in 2014 to give up the sport while a cornerback for the Northwestern University Wildcats after discovering he’d been born with only one kidney and suffering an injury in practice before the season opener in Evanston.
But White — who went on to earn his bachelor’s degree and a master’s from Northwestern — continues to work with his hands on walls and canvas rather than the gridiron. He’s an artist, having left a corporate job during the pandemic to make art his full-time profession.
The 27-year-old Chicagoan has started to garner attention — most recently along Ida B. Wells Drive, where in October he painted a towering mural in recognition of Loop workers.
Each week day, more than 77,000 vehicles pass the artwork, featuring the side profile of a pony-tailed woman in a hard hat, colorful streaks obscuring her eyes, a stack of books and the words “All Roads Lead Back To The Loop.”
Sponsored by the foundational arm of the Chicago Loop Alliance, the mural was intended to recognize downtown workers.
White also painted a mural on the West Side as part of an arts initiative to honor medical workers during the pandemic and another one on the North Side amid Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year.
“What I really love about art is being able to reach people with different backgrounds,” says White, who grew up in the Houston area and got a football scholarship from Northwestern. “It connects different walks of life. It builds community.
“It’s how I best communicate.”
During the 2013 season at Northwestern — during which he was a red-shirt freshman, standing at 5 foot 10 inches, weighing 180 pounds — White played in all 12 games, started six and logged 17 solo tackles and one interception.
While practicing before the 2014 season, he felt discomfort in the kidney area and, during a doctor visit, discovered he only had the one kidney. He’d been born without a second one.
That made continuing to play football risky, but he decided to soldier on and play the sport that he loved.
Outfitted with a special pad for added protection, White then landed on a receiver’s knee in the same spot during a practice leading up to the Aug. 30 opener at Ryan Field.
“It gave me a contusion on my kidney,” he says. “It was a risk to keep playing ball.”
Consulting with his parents, who both had been college athletes, he decided to call it quits, though he stayed on scholarship at Northwestern and completed his first degree in 2016.
White stayed connected to the football program, led by Coach Pat Fitzgerald.
“I started thinking of ways to stay engaged and contribute,” White says.
He got involved in public relations and marketing for the team. That helped hone his digital art skills, using Photoshop, for instance, to showcase members of the team in action.
“Eventually, I started testing other mediums such as painting,” he says. “I guess when you have significant life changes, you start redefining yourself.”
He turned to something else he enjoyed as a kid: creating art.
His mother LaWanda White says with sports consuming so much of his time as a kid, “he didn’t have a lot of time” for art but always “liked to draw.”
White stayed in the Chicago area so he could complete his master’s degree in integrated marketing communications in 2018 and was hired to work in the marketing and consumer insights department at the Kraft Heinz Co.
“A lot of it had to do with market research,” he says. “Less creative, more really understanding the minds and behaviors of consumers.”
He worked on his art during his off hours.
“I was balancing the two as best I could” for more than two years, he says but eventually, “I had to choose one.”
In recent months, he left his job to become a “full-time creative.”
Fitzgerald says White is “so talented and humble. To see how he’s responded to the adversity has been just unbelievable.”
White does the occasional mural — including one inside the Northwestern players’ lounge he did in 2019. He also works with businesses on consumer-related art projects and is in the midst of a gallery show in Logan Square, where he’s selling his canvas paintings.
“We love the way he interprets,” Michael Edwards, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Loop Alliance, says of the 40-feet-tall mural White did downtown.