By Barry Janoff
November 13, 2012: Kobe Bryant is known for his prowess on the basketball court with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now, Bryant is seeking to do something that would eclipse the five NBA titles and two Olympic gold medals he has won: "The challenge," said Bryant, "is to get rid of homelessness. To get everyone back on their feet."
Bryant is not trying to take on the homeless situation nationwide, but rather is focusing his efforts on a major problem in Los Angeles. Skid Row in the downtown section of the city (Central City East), encompasses four square miles and is populated by upward of 5,000 people, making it the largest concentration of homeless people in the U.S., according to Participant Media.
The Beverly Hills-based production company in early October launched TakePart TV, what it describes as an "impact-driven channel" housed on YouTube. Participant Media's newest effort is a five-part Web series with Bryant focusing on the homeless problem in Los Angeles.
Also involved in the project is the Los Angeles Mission, a nonprofit organization that cares for homeless people in the area; and the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, which provides financial resources and develops programs to help improve the lives of youth and families in need,with a special focus on Los Angeles County.
Participant Media has activated numerous "social action" campaigns for Hollywood films and documentaries, including one for the just-released film Lincoln from director Steven Spielberg.
The first episode sees Bryant talking to people on the streets of Skid Row during a fact-finding mission to see the situation up-close and personal.
"The feeling that you get walking around on Skid Row, it's like the place where ambitions just die," Bryant explains in the episode. "Where the people who are forgotten by our society are. I was walking around and the reaction was, 'What are you doing here? Nobody ever comes here. Nobody cares about what we are doing here.' You don't really think that it's just a few blocks away when you're driving from Staples Center."
According to Bryant, "There has to be something else bigger than just yourself and what you leave out on the basketball court. You have to use that to affect change and affect change in a serious way . . . To be able to help somebody get back on their feet, to correct a mistake they made, that's what it's about."
Via the series, Participant Media is seeking to raise awareness about the homeless situation in the U.S. and to motivate people "to take action by volunteering in their local area to help the homeless." Included in the Web series is a link to a directory authored by the National Coalition for the Homeless that lists local homeless service organizations throughout the nation.
The presence of Bryant, they feel, will go a long way toward achieving that goal.
"Kobe is a superstar on and off the court. We are inspired by his commitment to move people to act on the issue of homelessness in America."
"Kobe is a superstar on and off the court," Evan Shapiro, president of Participant Media Television, said in a statement. "We applaud his desire to bring attention to important causes he cares deeply about and we are inspired by his commitment to move people to act on the issue of homelessness in America."
However, even Bryant realizes the enormity of the task at hand. "It's hard to help someone who doesn't want to be helped, or who don't think they need help," he says in the initial episode. "We have to fight this one battle at a time." (See the full episode here.)
The effort with Bryant is the third series to premiere on TakePart TV, following Capitalism with Henry Rollins and American Savage with Dan Savage.
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