Jawara: From Jump Shots to the Justice System
“No matter what you are going through today, I promise you, you will all be winners in life.”
“No matter what you are going through today, I promise you, you will all be winners in life,” said Northern Home alumnus, Jawara Griffin. He directs this motivational promise towards the youth currently enrolled at Northern Children’s Services (formerly Northern Home for Children,) while reflecting upon how his time at Northern gave him the confidence to overcome a tumultuous past, and taught him to set goals for himself, one jump shot at a time.
Griffin spent the first twelve years of his life struggling to find a place to call home, as he spent his childhood moving from abandoned buildings, to a crack house, and ultimately, when his mother overdosed for the third time, he landed at the doors of Northern Home, which during the early nineties, had a residential program that housed young boys. “I came prepared, and that was it. I was twelve years old making these life decisions,” said Griffin, remembering his arrival at Northern, located high atop Ridge Avenue in Roxborough.
Not only did Northern give Griffin stability and a permanent residency for the next six years, “it gave me confidence,” said Griffin. That confidence bloomed in Griffin’s favorite space in his new home. The gym.
“I lived in the gym. Basketball was my escape, my release. It started with just me going there. Then various staff would play with me and help me get my game together,” said Griffin.
His talent on the court did not go unnoticed. He began playing for the Braves, Roxborough’s local basketball team. “Northern gave us avenues, and everything was in place,” said Griffin, describing the structure Northern provided its residents.
That structure not only helped Griffin perfect his basketball skills, but it also taught him self-discipline. He landed a job at the McDonald’s in Andorra and maintained good grades at Roxborough High School.
“I got into a routine (at Northern),” Griffin said.
When he turned eighteen, Griffin was recruited for basketball at Mansfield College, and his social worker drove him four hours north to the campus. “He shook my hand and said good luck,” said Griffin.
He tackled this life change with poise, riding on his courageousness and resiliency, character traits challenged and ultimately, strengthened during his years at Northern.
“Any impact of staff had a positive influence on my life. It was all to my benefit,” said Griffin.
After graduating from Mansfield with straight A’s, Griffin challenged himself on the other side of the court, making the decision to attend law school. When asked what prompted his decision, he explained that he recalled a vivid childhood memory in which his family believed he would be a lawyer when he grew up.
“In law school I won every award possible. I had never won an award before in my life,” said Griffin, now a public defender in Maryland.
He credits Northern Home for fostering direction as he continues to accomplish his goals, and through the power of the spoken word, he makes efforts to motivate the children currently involved with Northern to set their own goals towards ensuring successful futures for themselves.
“Do not let your current latitude determine your altitude,” he said, explaining to the children that where they are today does not determine where they are going to be tomorrow.
“I see it as an obligation to visit the kids now. There is power in motivation. I can relate to these kids,” said Griffin.
Now, thanks to not only this Northern Home alumnus, but public defender, father, and soon-to-be author (Griffin is currently 100 pages into writing his memoir), many of the kids who listen to his inspirational messages, and who apply Griffin’s wisdom, as Northern helps guide them in the direction of their dreams, are already winners in life.