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Former NBA Star Aims to Net Big for African Hunger Relief

Kermit Washington begins five day fast on AU Quad to raise enough money to feed 2 million Africans

By Maralee Csellar

He’s been a pro basketball player, and a coach and most recently a philanthropist, but for five days, starting today, former NBA star and American University alumnus Kermit Washington, will forgo food and sleep in a tent on the AU campus for a cause that has inspired him to make a difference–hunger relief in Africa.

From Wednesday, Oct. 1 to Sunday, Oct. 5, Washington will "Fast for the Hungry" on the university’s main quad. Washington's goal is to raise enough money to feed two million hungry people in Africa. “Just $1 a day can feed 10 people,” says Washington. “One dollar buys four pounds of rice or beans, and that becomes 12 pounds when it’s cooked.”

Washington, 57, began the nonprofit, Project Contact, in 1995 after a memorable trip to Rwanda with an organization that brings medical relief to various African nations exposed him to a large degree of human suffering and poor living conditions. Since that initial visit, the Leesburg, Va. resident has made 24 trips to Nairobi, Kenya and has fed approximately 25,000 people a month through funds he has raised through his organization.

Washington’s home away from home during this fast will be a small tent in front of the SIS building. Armed with a sleeping bag and a few friends who have pledged to fast with him, Washington kicks off his commitment with an event on the main quad at 12 noon, Wednesday, to explain his objectives and discuss his hunger relief work. AU president Neil Kerwin and School of International Service dean Louis Goodman will also make remarks, and will fast for the day. In an additional show of support, Goodman plans to spend Wednesday night with Washington in his tent. Also expected to participate at some point during the fast is Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.

“American University's support of this effort – and of one of our distinguished alumni – underscores our commitment to social responsibility on a global scale. We are utilizing this opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the issues of hunger on the African continent,” says President Neil Kerwin. 

The university community will assist Washington in his effort and complement his work during the week with education and cultural displays, and a panel discussion to examine hunger relief issues, arranged and organized by the students. Pamphlets about hunger and relief efforts will also be available at a table near the tent throughout the five days. In addition, more than 100 students have signed up to spend a night under the stars with Washington.

Washington, whose No. 24 jersey hangs from the rafters in Bender Arena, is perhaps the most accomplished athlete in AU history. He was offered $400,000 to quit school and go pro when he was a junior but opted to stay. As a senior he averaged 21 points and 21 rebounds per game en route to earning All-American honors and NCAA Academic All American. Following graduation, Washington played for eight years in the NBA. Washington now works with the NBA Players Association, which has been supportive of his fast. He also routinely collects signed equipment and memorabilia from NBA players and auctions it to raise money for his foundation.

Key events throughout the five day fast include:

- Wednesday, Oct. 1, Kickoff event (noon) on the quad. President Neil Kerwin, SIS dean Louis Goodman, and Kermit Washington to speak about the importance of the project. 
- Thursday, Oct. 2, Information Fair (11 a.m –2 p.m.) An education fair will be held on the quad, with exhibits and information by students and NGOs on hunger relief and African cultures
- Friday, Oct. 3, Panel Discussion (4–6 p.m.) Hunger and Development in Africa: Finding solutions beyond discourses a discussion held in the SIS Lounge examining issues surrounding hunger relief in Africa and food supply featuring speakers from TransAfrica Forum, USAID–Africa Bureau, and Bread for the World.