Rise Above
Tyreke Evans emerges as a leader, both on the NBA hardwood and in his hometown of Chester
by Bill Donahue

Although New Orleans has since become his adopted home, Tyreke Evans will always consider the Philadelphia area—specifically Chester, the long-troubled city near the southernmost tip of Delaware County—the place “where everything started for me,” he says.

Evans, a Chester native, is best known for his talents on the basketball court, as a guard for the National Basketball Association’s New Orleans Pelicans. Over the past six years, however, he has earned praise for his philanthropic work. He returned to Chester in early September, when he hosted a free, two-day basketball clinic at Chester High School. The event coincided with a mobile eye-care clinic to offer complimentary eye exams and glasses to adults and children in need courtesy of VSP Vision Care, a not-for-profit firm based in Rancho Cordova, Calif. Although Evans was on hand to have fun and teach children about the fundamentals of the game he loves, he also wanted to impart an important message.

“I want them to know everything is possible,” says Evans, who was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2010. “I want them to know I was in their shoes at one point, and my dreams came true. I didn’t have much of a chance when I was younger. I’m probably the biggest-name person they’ve met so far, and for me to come here, maybe these kids can see that they can still become the person they want to be.”

Evans formed the partnership with VSP six years ago, while he was playing for the Sacramento Kings. That’s when the mobile eye-care clinic first came to Chester, and the basketball camp followed two years later, according to VSP spokesperson Melissa Warren.

“[Evans] has as much of a passion for giving back to the community as VSP does,” says Warren, whose company hosted its first mobile eye-care clinic 10 years ago in New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “That’s not something you often find, especially for someone who is being pulled in so many different directions. He’s there the second [the clinic] starts to the second it ends; he’s not just making an appearance and waving.”

Historically, VSP has provided access to eye care and eyewear for 2,100 Chester residents. This year, the eye-care clinic served nearly 150 people, while another 542 people received gift certificates for future eye-care treatment. Ten locally based doctors volunteered their time to provide comprehensive screenings, including testing for signs of chronic disease, according to Warren.

“We put a lot of thought and work into answering the question, ‘How do we support the community, especially in areas that have a high need?’” says Warren. “We’re on the West Coast, so we weren’t familiar with Chester, but when we asked Tyreke about his passion and where we could host a local clinic, Chester was his answer. It all started with him.”

Evans, who went to high school at the since-shuttered American Christian School in Aston, admits he would like to see Chester rise above its current status. The city has had its share of recent successes in terms of economic development—including high-profile attractions such as Harrah’s Philadelphia and PPL Park, home of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union—yet it remains among the region’s most vulnerable, underserved areas. Evans believes the key to Chester’s resurgence rests with the strength of its people.

“What I would like to see is for people to just try to figure out a way to become the best they can be,” he says. “A lot of people bring each other down, so they need a way to come together and figure out a way to heal each other and help the city.”

Photograph by Taylr Williams