The idea for That Harper Kid — former Sky guard Linnae Harper’s newly launched nonprofit — started years ago when she was affectionately addressed as such.
Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited Whitney Young High School while Harper was making a name for herself there as a promising basketball player.
When the two crossed paths, Emanuel asked her the question she wouldn’t forget.
“She was actually playing in a game — I think it was to go Downstate — and [he] happened to be at the game,” recalled Ericka Harper, Linnae’s mom. “He came up to her and was like, ‘Hey, you’re that Harper kid, right?’ And that’s just stuck with her ever since that day. Ever since then, she’s wanted to have her own foundation and change the dynamic of the city when it comes to our youth.”
Linnae Harper, a Chicago native, knows first-hand how important it is for young people in the city to have help inside and outside of the classroom.
She officially launched That Harper Kid in late May to help give kids more chances to succeed.
“Sometimes it’s very important to take a step back and look back at all the people from the community to see how they supported you and see the struggles they go through,” she said. “In Chicago, with how CPS has been — schools closing down and not having enough money — that can make somebody discouraged. With a nonprofit, it’s just me helping the community in general so they can have better situations and resources.”
Ahead of the official launch, Harper hosted her first event for That Harper Kid last September, giving away 500 backpacks containing school supplies to five Chicago elementary schools — Robert A. Black, O’Toole, Claremont, Whistler and W.E.B. DuBois.
She also spoke with the kids about the importance of pursuing their education.
Harper says she doesn’t want a lack of support, resources or opportunity to stand between children and their dreams.
“If I can go to every CPS school, that would be amazing,” she said. “With the supplies — if the kids have the tools that they need — that’ll motivate them. When I was growing up playing basketball, I had the people there to help me along the way. I had people there that I could lean on, and I think that’s important.”
Other Chicago athletes — from former Bull Jabari Parker, Linnae’s lifelong friend, to Michigan coach and former NBA star Juwan Howard and Whitney Young alum McKinley Nelson — share in the tradition of giving back to the communities that helped raise them. But Harper, especially, is in a position to stand out.
“It’s important because if you think about it from a sports perspective, Chicago really hasn’t had an icon from Chicago on the female side,” Ericka Harper said. “We had Cappie Pondexter, but that was from years ago.
“If people see she’s from Chicago — raised in Chicago, she lives here, she played here, she grew up here, she went to grammar school here and went to high school here — if she gets to talk in front of 5,000 Chicago kids, I think they’ll appreciate it more because they’ll say, ‘She understood what we’re going through because she’s just a kid from the South Side.’ I think it’s important for her to be that face.”