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Leadership begins at home for Mason basketball player

October 3, 2017   /   by Damian Cristodero

Jaire Grayer has returned to his hometown of Flint, Mich., the past two years to be part of the Fresh Flint Festival. Photo by Brett Hansbauer.

For Jaire Grayer, the best thing about this year’s Fresh Flint Festival was the smiles on the children’s faces.

The George Mason University junior, a starting guard on the Patriots men’s basketball team, ran a shooting clinic at the April event in Flint, Mich.

“Just a great day to help take their minds off things, and to inspire people to have a good time,” Grayer said recently.

Flint has been in crisis since 2014, when the city switched its water source from Detroit’s system to the polluted Flint River, a move that contributed to contaminated drinking water and a massive, ongoing effort to replace the city’s aging iron and lead pipes.

For the past two years, Grayer has returned for the Fresh Flint Festival to help give back to his hometown and provide a sense of normalcy.

“It just feels right to come back and help my city,” Grayer said. “It’s a good community. People here are friendly. You grow up with a tough mindset here, but I feel like Flint makes you a stronger person. It really builds character.”

Grayer’s commitment to community involvement and the value of shared responsibility comes from his parents, Jeff and Patrice. That sensibility also applies to Grayer’s involvement with the George Mason team, Patriots coach Dave Paulsen said.

When Grayer can’t find a scoring touch in a game, he concentrates on rebounding and playing energetic defense, Paulsen said. Grayer also often initiates conversations with the coaching staff instead of just reacting to directions.

“You could argue his greater involvement in Flint is a sign of broadening horizons,” Paulsen said. “You can also argue his involvement has made him a more proactive member of our team. When you give back, you grow as a person.”

“I do feel like I’ve grown,” said Grayer, who is majoring in health, fitness and recreation resources. “I’ve learned a little bit about how to become a leader.”

Grayer has a personal stake in the Fresh Flint Festival, as Jeff Grayer, who played nine NBA seasons including four with the Milwaukee Bucks, and was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic basketball team, has a substantial organizing role. His organization, Flint Athletes for a Better Education, is a presenting sponsor.

Father and son worked the basketball portion of the event, putting kids through drills and fitness activities. Flint and Detroit area athletes such as former NFL star Andre Rison and former NBA player Tim McCormick also attended.

“His mom and I have always talked to him about community awareness, community involvement,” Jeff Grayer said of his son. He added that Grayer’s mother “is a social worker. She made him aware of her scope of work and to always care for others. I’ve done the same thing through sports and getting him to understand why we do what we do.”

The message resonated.

“Giving back to my community and helping others is a greater cause than just basketball,” Grayer said. “I’ve always felt that way, but now I’m in a position to act on it.”

About Grayer, Mason coach Dave Paulsen said, "You could argue his greater involvement in Flint is a sign of broadening horizons. You can also argue his involvement has made him a more proactive member of our team. When you give back, you grow as a person." Photo by Brett Hansbauer.