Left: Jakim Donaldson returns to his highschool gym after playing professional basketball abroad.

When Jakim Donaldson walked into Oliver High School’s gym as a 14-year-old freshman, he didn’t make their varsity basketball team, but instead played in a Saturday squad that just practiced on the weekends.

In the next three years he not only made Oliver’s team, but then went on to play at Edinboro University where he was named MVP twice and after he graduated, the school retired his number.

Last week, he walked back through the gym doors 13 years later as a professional basketball player for Club Baloncesto 1939 Canarias in The Liga Española de Baloncesto league in Spain. 

He returned not to play, but rather to give back to the community he grew up in by running The Jakim Donaldson P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Basketball Camp, which was a free basketball program for kids ages 8 to 18 that ran from August 10-12 in Oliver’s gym.

“I was raised on the Northside, so basically everything I ever knew came from here,” said Donaldson. “I see myself in these kids, and I see talent and brainpower in these younger kids living on the Northside.”

The free camp was run through P.R.O.M.I.S.E., which was founded by Jakim’s father Jay Donaldson, who hoped to reach out to young kids in the neighborhood and keep them on the right track.

Jakim’s father, Jay Donaldson, founded P.R.O.M.I.S.E. in memory of his son and Jakim’s brother, Jehru, who was killed in a violent carjacking four years ago. P.R.O.M.I.S.E.’s purpose is to commemorate love ones lost to street violence and promote community safety and outreach. 

Though camp attendees talked about layups and free throws, and had practice and pick-up games, basketball wasn’t the primary focus of the camp.

Jakim and Jay wanted to teach the kids not just basketball, but leadership, sportsmanship, respecting elders, doing well in school and other general good values. 

“A good basketball player should have all of these skills,” said Jay, who incorporated life lessons into the sports program and brought in motivational speakers like KDKA’s Bob Allen

On the first day, 60 kids showed up to play basketball, but word spread, and on Thursday they had about 80 kids. By Friday over 100 kids showed up for Jakim’s camp from all over the city.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response,” said Jay Donaldson. “It’s good because kids are coming to the Northside from all over the city. We’re really breaking down barriers of hoodisms, which a lot of people are afraid to do because they’re worried it’ll create violence” 

When Jakim and Jay started planning the camp a few months ago, they had no financial sponsors to help pay for the costs of the camp.

“Jakim reached into his own pocket,” said Jay Donaldson, who noted that his son supplied the program with money to feed the kids lunch, supply drinks and get them T-shirts. 

But as word spread of their program businesses and organizations began to make contributions.

The camp received a grant from the City of Pittsburgh, Soul Pitt designed posters and made a donation, Younger’s Bar in the Northside made a contribution and Dick’s Sporting Goods gave the kids water bottles.

Jay Donaldson estimated that a similar camp would usually cost at least $50 per child. 

Next year, the Donaldsons and P.R.O.M.I.S.E. hope to make the camp bigger and better.

“We don’t have many of these programs in the city,” said Jakim. “It was great seeing the joy and happiness on the kids’ faces, and seeing them work hard and being receptive to what we were saying.”