Gary Pinkel, L'Damian Washington give back to Douglass students

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COLUMBIA – To say L’Damian Washington had a difficult childhood would be an understatement.

His father was murdered when he was five years old. His mother had a stroke and died at one of his high school basketball games when he was 15.

Now, Washington is using his experiences to inspire future generations.

“Growing up as a kid, going through the struggle that I went through, going to alternative school and just kind of knowing that sometimes your thoughts could be so negative, there's not really much hope to grasp on to,” Washington said.

So he and his former head coach at Missouri, Gary Pinkel, teamed up to help bring hope to students at Douglass High School on Monday.

In an event called “One Step Forward,” a packed auditorium of students, teachers and other members of the community listened to Pinkel give words of wisdom before watching an emotional video detailing Washington’s path through childhood to playing college football to attempting to make it to the NFL.

“L'Damian Washington came from a very challenging background and has remarkable success, so he's going to do such a great job, and he will instantly be a role model for all those kids," Pinkel said.

After the video, Washington addressed the audience before revealing the event’s surprise: a pair of brand new Nike sneakers for every student.

“It's one step forward and it's about getting up every day and putting your shoes on and taking another step,” Pinkel said. “Some days it's not a whole lot of fun doing that and that's what we're going to be talking about.”

The event’s sponsors, ZOUNation Magazine, Missouri Employers Mutual and Academy Sports, helped make the gifts possible.

For Washington, giving back in Columbia is just the first step.

"This is the place that gave me hope, that gave me opportunity, that gave me a chance when most places didn't give me a chance so to come back, for me, hopefully it starts here,” Washington said. “Hopefully I make my way back to Shreveport, Louisiana, because that's where my roots are, but I have to start here."

Washington currently plays for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. He came to the Columbia event immediately after his regular season ended before traveling back north of the border for the team's upcoming playoff game on Sunday.