“Kids’ smiles are the same, whether it’s South Africa or south Atlanta”

Senior James Fields washes someone's feet before they receive new shoes.

Senior James Fields washes someone's feet before they receive new shoes.

Tracionaa, a petite 7-year-old with a Christmas morning smile, puts on her new black, canvas shoes and then finds the closest mirror.

She sticks one leg out, examining the shoe closely. She nods and smiles.

“Kids’ smiles are the same, whether it’s South Africa or south Atlanta,” Georgia State men’s basketball coach Ron Hunter said.

Hunter and athletes from Georgia State were washing feet and giving away shoes on behalf of Samaritan’s Feet on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday at the Blank Family YMCA on Luckie Street. Some of the shoes were paid for as a result of the donations made at last week’s “Barefoot for Bare Feet” game.

Tracionaa was one of the 200 children who benefited.

“This is about giving, giving back,” her mother, Tracy Gipson, said. “We’re grateful to see the deal that God gave us in this time of hardship.”

Gipson moved her family to Atlanta from Oklahoma City last year to start a new life. The Atlanta Union Mission brought them to the YMCA on Monday. Some of the children who received shoes and socks are in at-risk programs at schools around Atlanta, according to Kaamel Nuri, executive director of the Blank Family YMCA. Nuri oversees various programs designed to improve the health and education of more than 500 kids in the city.

He and Hunter buzzed around the YMCA on Monday morning, each overseeing different things. Hunter would look the children in the eye and ask them their name, their age and how they were. Nuri would try to get the kids to check out some of the other activities the YMCA offers, like the cardiovascular exercises that some GSU athletes were leading.

Hunter said Monday’s effort was smaller-scale than the overseas trips he’s been on to give shoes. In places such as Nigeria, where he went last year, he said the lines stretch for miles and there aren’t enough shoes to help everyone.

On Monday that wasn’t the case. The children would play with some athletes and other volunteers in the gym at the YMCA until they were brought across a hallway where Georgia State’s athletes would begin washing their feet. Most of the time the kids would enthusiastically slap hands before they sat down. Some times they were a bit overwhelmed. As the athletes would gently clean them, another volunteer would ask them or someone who brought them what size shoe they needed and what color they preferred.The volunteer would go to the supply room where the shoes were stored — many colors, many sizes — and bring back what was hoped for.

Tracionaa wanted black, so she was happy. She seemed to like the Samaritan’s Feet logo, two bare feet, on the side of her shoes.

While the goal is to help the children, Hunter said he hopes his team realizes the blessings they’ve received. Senior Jihad Ali said he spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the YMCA, so this was especially gratifying to him.

“This is doing something for them, but it’s doing something for us,” Ali said.

“This is a very special day, being Martin Luther King day,” senior James Fields said. “Giving shoes to these kids, this helps my soul.”

– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu

I posted photos from Monday’s event on twitter, if you would like to see them.

18 comments Add your comment


January 16th, 2012
1:24 pm

Awesome story and so many times in sports we hear the negative. Thanks for bringing positive.

Today is not about basketball, it’s about giving.



January 16th, 2012
1:47 pm

Great story, Doug. Hunter is the real deal and this is a great lesson for the team.


January 16th, 2012
1:47 pm

What a great story. Glad to see our athletes assisting these kids as this is an excellent lesson. Great job with this charity coach.


January 16th, 2012
1:49 pm

Helping others than need help, rather than demand, has brightened my days on many occasions. I don’t do it enough.

Good thing for the team to do and I believe James Fields has it right. Bet the others feel the same.


January 16th, 2012
1:55 pm

I love what Coach Hunter brings to the Panthers: great morals and winning basketball


January 16th, 2012
2:37 pm

What more could we ask for in a coach? I mean seriously…


January 16th, 2012
2:45 pm

Very proud of these young men and their coach.

Proud Alum

January 16th, 2012
3:15 pm

As a fan, this means more to me than winning the Colonial… and make no mistake about it, I really want the Panthers to win the Colonial! Thanks for sharing this story…

GSU is in Atlanta

January 16th, 2012
3:20 pm

Doug, thanks for bringing this story to the AJC. The basketball game was great, but this is the real deal!

Thanks Coach Hunter & Team and keep making us proud on and off the court.


January 16th, 2012
5:32 pm

Thank you Coach Hunter! You are a great man and the perfect leader for our team. Bless you, your coaches, and the team.

462 JC Camp Student Center

January 16th, 2012
8:04 pm

Good coach. At a very good school. Making a great story. Showing that he is an awesome person.

Atlanta educator

January 16th, 2012
10:26 pm

Thank you coach Hunter and the GSU Panther athletics for setting a great example to our school children.


January 17th, 2012
1:27 am

Thanks Coach Hunter….you’re a great addition to GSU and Atlanta. I believe you will recruit well and GSU bb will keep getting better. Karma works in a good way for you!


January 17th, 2012
10:11 am

Proud to be a Panther

Tuesday Chewables…

January 17th, 2012
10:55 am

[...] Georgia State giving back to its community in a flat-out awesome way.   [...]


January 17th, 2012
11:11 am

AWESOME story! Go CRH and Go GSU Panthers!!!

Felicita Stone

January 17th, 2012
2:51 pm

I would just like to say that my grandson really enjoyed himself yesterday at the Blank YMCA especially after he found out that the Georgia State Athletics washed feet just as Jesus did during the Last Supper . He really liked the socks and shoes something else to run in . Thanks again……

Tuesday Chewables… | CAAZone.com

January 17th, 2012
4:47 pm

[...] Georgia State giving back to its community in a flat-out awesome way.   [...]