Heyward follows Clemente's community lead

September 16th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The image has become a part of the Cubs' home opener celebration in recent years: , sprinting out to his place in right field, carrying the city of Chicago flag.

Heyward grew up outside Atlanta and takes great pride in his roots there, but the Cubs veteran has said he feels "reborn" in Chicago. A tattoo of the city's skyline wraps around his right shoulder. He has embraced it not only as his home, but as his community

Part of that means using his platform and resources to help where he can.

"My wife and I take a lot of pride in giving back to people," Heyward said recently. "Helping people out and not judging people. Seeing people for who they are. Seeing the positive. And I think that's everything Chicago."

For the second year in a row, Heyward is the Cubs' nominee for baseball's annual Roberto Clemente Award. The accolade is presented each year to a player who "best reprsents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field."

The list of Heyward's community work extends to before his time in Chicago. The veteran's contributions, however, gained momentum over the past two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest not only on the home front, but across the country.

Here is a snapshot of some of Heyward's work:

• Donated to help fund the creation of a 10-acre, 150,000-plus-square-foot professional-level sports facility and club for youth in Chicago's Austin neighborhood. The complex will include the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy.

• Has been an active member of the Players' Alliance. He has directly participated in Chicago-based events and contributing to efforts around the country to provide more than 20,000 families with food and supplies, while supporting the distribution of baseball equipment.

• In 2020, Heyward joined a group of athletes, along with Chicago police officers, to meet with kids in the Austin neighborhood in "healing circles" to discuss social injustice and gather ideas about how to help the community.

• Donated to By the Hand Club for Kids (the group also leading the creation of the sports complex) to help create the Austin Harvest market. The grocery was created and run by youth in the neighborhood.

• Donated to Cubs Charities, MASK (Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings), the Greater Food Depository, University of Chicago Medical Center, SocialWorks, Future Ties and the Muslim American Leadership Alliance, among other organizations.

Heyward shared his vision during the ground-breaking ceremony for the sports facility on Chicago's West Side last month. For him, it was more than just providing a place for kids to learn and play sports.

"We're also here to build peoples' minds, build peoples' hearts and give them visions, give them dreams," he said. "All you hear about Austin right now, I feel like, and certain neighborhoods in Chicago, are bad things.

"I want to continue to change that narrative. I'd like to be positive and have somewhere for people to run to, instead of things to run away from."

Early in Heyward's career, he said he was inspired by the off-field efforts of one of his hitting coaches, C.J. Stewart. A former Draft pick by the Cubs, Stewart and his wife formed an Atlanta-based non-profit called L.E.A.D.

The organization's mission statement reads: "To empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform their City of Atlanta by using the sport of baseball to teach Black boys how to overcome three curveballs that threaten their success: crime, poverty and racism."

Stewart and his wife formed L.E.A.D. in 2007, which was the same year Heyward was drafted in the first round by Atlanta. During his years with the Braves, Heyward said he saw first-hand the impact Stewart's group was having in the city.

That helped light a spark inside Heyward to search for his own ways to help out his communities as his platform and means increased.

"Coming to this city," Heyward said, "and having other teammatees -- Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester -- other guys give back and see how the community latched onto that, to me, it's a no-brainer to have an opportunity to come work with people.

"I see the positivity. If you give Chicago an inch of positivity, they take it and run with it. I want to continue to do just that."

Fans can vote for the Roberto Clemente Award via mlb.com/clemente21 (English) and LasMayores.com/clemente21 (Spanish), through the end of the regular season on Oct. 3. The winner of the fan vote will count as one vote among those cast by a blue ribbon panel that will select the league-wide winner of the award.