Jermel President knows the taste of glory, how it can empower and blind. He knows what it's like to hear the cheers of a packed high school gym. He's felt the adrenaline charge of bringing the basketball down in front of thousands in a college arena. He was regional player of the year at Burke High School, after all, and with the College of Charleston Cougars he went to three NCAA tournaments.
The NBA? After college President thought he had a shot. And he came closer than most, playing with the New Jersey Shorecats of the U.S. Basketball League under Hall of Famer Rick Berry. But playing basketball in the minors is no glory ride. "You might get $400 a week, and you had to live out of a bag. And it was a revolving door; one bad game and you're out."
One day the owner of three minor league teams stopped by, and President began thinking about all the money the owners made, about how every new year brings a fresh crop of kids from college with the same NBA dreams. President realized he needed something more solid in his life. He quit and headed back to Charleston, hoping for a sign.
It appeared in the form of a flyer for a three-on-three tournament to help kids in downtown Charleston. He remembered growing up there, how 11 people lived in his home sometimes, how he didn't have a father figure in his life, how the now-defunct Midnight Basketball program had changed everything. Maybe he could do the same for others. That was nine years ago.
President is 33 now and runs a nonprofit called the DAE Foundation, named for the two women who raised him, his mother Delores and his grandmother Estelle. The foundation works with student athletes to improve their basketball and life skills.
He organizes seminars and clinics that teach children a wide variety of skills including basketball basics and college eligibility requirements. With a grant from the Medical University of South Carolina, he's teaching students at poverty-stricken schools about nutrition and exercise. One of his goals is to build a gym that offers the public programs 24 hours a day, a haven for kids tempted by the street.
Mark Cumins, owner of T-Bonz restaurants, has known President for years and watched his evolution from athlete to mentor. "Jermel represents the ideal person who finds his or her way out of less-than-optimum life circumstances, creates and achieves personal and professional goals, and then commits to giving back to the community," Cumins said.