Dwight Howard Gives Back
An Alabama student recalls Howard’s special visit.
Jessica Ogilvie is a 22-year-old graduate student at the University of Alabama. A native of Crestview, Florida, she has lived in Tuscaloosa the past four years and considers the city her second home. Jessica sat down with SLAM to recall the special visit her tornado-stricken community received from NBA star Dwight Howard in the aftermath of the tragic disaster.
As told to Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
We found out that Dwight Howard was coming down here to help through the D12 Foundation. He was going to be in Birmingham one day and Tuscaloosa the next. We signed up to volunteer through Habitat for Humanity and went down to Birmingham. We didn’t even think Dwight would be out there the whole day but he was out there, working with us. There was rebuilding going on and we helped clean debris, hung some installation in one house, cleaned out a few other houses and hung some siding—some odds and ends around all the different job sites.
Dwight being here made a big difference. We have all been around this for over a month since everything happened and you kind of drive into school and work everyday and you get to a point where it gets numb, just to drive past all the debris. I don’t know a better word for it. We’re just numb to it. Things are slowly getting back to normal. Having Dwight come down and jumpstart this whole rebuild project— the fact that he threw a BBQ just to help get everyone’s mind off what’s happened around them for a day, made an impact. The hope we initially had when everyone was united and trying to get back together, he kind of rekindled that—we all have a little bit of hope again.
At the BBQ, there were snow cones and nachos and stuff for the kids. Dwight signed autographs for everyone. A few of my friends started throwing a football around and before we knew it, Dwight was organizing a football game. There were a lot of little kids out there that played with us too. They’re never going to forget that they played touch football with Dwight Howard—that is going to make a big difference in some of their lives. I practically was tackled by him during the game. It was two-hand touch but it was more than what I was ready for. But Dwight caught me before I hit the ground, so it was a clean play. If there were refs, somebody probably would have liked to call a tech but I think we were OK. Dwight has a personality that is just larger than life. He brought smiles to people that haven’t smiled in a month because of what’s gone on. He had people out there laughing over everything. That makes a bigger difference than a check or anything else can.
I’m absolutely optimistic that we can rebuild. Before this, I would have never thought our community was as close as it is. I’ve seen so many people help as many people as they possibly can—so many people have come together. We went through it together and now we’re rebuilding together. It’s something I never thought I would have to deal with. I drive places in this town that have become my home and I don’t know where I am anymore. Because things that were there aren’t there anymore. It’s hard but it really gives you a good outlook. I was very blessed; I didn’t lose anyone in the storm that I knew. I was on campus when it hit. The tornado actually turned right before campus. None of the campus really got touched. I was in class and they had us in the basement of another building. We were very safe. It makes you realize that you really are blessed for everyday that you are here.
I’m happy that I decided to stay for the summer. After what happened, it was almost like I couldn’t leave. It’s become my city and it’s hard to leave knowing that. It’s really hard to drive through some of this stuff. There are still some spots that I drive through that bring tears to my eyes. It’s hard but I don’t think I can leave right now. I feel like I need to be here for my city and for these people that really did lose everything.