For This Hoops Player, Fighting Dyslexia Is a Family Affair

Gary Payton II, Courtesy of the GPII Foundation

Written by Ade Adeniji | Inside Philanthropy | May 12, 2024

The Payton name is well-known to us ’90s kids. Thirty-one-year-old Gary Payton II was part of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors 2022 championship team that triumphed over the Boston Celtics in the finals in six games. The younger Payton is the son of NBA legend Gary “The Glove” Payton, who spent most of his All-Star years with the Seattle Supersonics before winning an NBA championship with the Miami Heat in the mid-aughts.

Philanthropy runs in the family. The elder Payton, one of several all-time greats who probably would’ve won a championship if not for one Michael Jeffrey Jordan, started a foundation in the 1990s which focused on underprivileged youth. Inside Philanthropy recently named Payton II as a top philanthropist in hoops for his work through the Gary Payton II Foundation (GPII Foundation), which promotes dyslexia awareness, early screening, detection and certified assessment for youth and young adults with “language-based learning challenges.” We reached out to Payton and discovered that his foundation was a family affair involving multiple generations. We also connected with his mother Monique and older sister Raquel Payton Childs, who serve as leaders of the foundation.

In our chat, I found out more about what inspired Payton to be open about his own dyslexia journey and use his platform to empower others, how the star stood up a foundation and was supported by his family, and the Payton family’s biggest hopes for helping young people with dyslexia going forward.

Philanthropic roots

Growing up, the younger Payton struggled with both reading and writing. His parents, Gary and Monique Payton, weren’t quite sure how to help their son. But Monique eventually started doing research and found out about dyslexia, and Payton was formally diagnosed with the condition in the fourth grade.

“It was tough growing up,” Payton told me. “But after that [diagnosis], I got the support I needed — the extra time with teachers throughout my academic career. It was a challenge in the beginning… but after that, it just became normal.”

According to the GPII Foundation, dyslexia is the most common learning disorder in children, affecting up to 17% of school-aged children. Eighty percent of those students are leaving school undiagnosed. Worldwide, an estimated 700 million people (1 in 10 people) are believed to be living with dyslexia.

Payton’s own diagnosis was his first step toward learning how to navigate the disorder and how to thrive both inside and outside the classroom. A burgeoning hoops talent, Payton eventually went on to play high school ball in Nevada, and eventually college ball at Oregon State, his father’s alma mater. But his path to the NBA wasn’t straightforward. After bouncing around between the G League and the NBA, he had a breakout season with the Golden State Warriors in 2021-2022. It is around this time that he started seriously thinking about launching a foundation.

Back in junior college, with the prospect of his professional career looming, Payton had plenty of support from people around him who encouraged him to think about how he might give and make an impact. Monique recalls saying “Babe, this is going to be a great platform, when you decide to tell the world you’re dyslexic. So let us know when you’re ready.” But it was Monique’s brother who convinced Payton to formally launch his foundation in 2021.

“It helped me get out of my shell. I got to do public speaking,” Payton said. “I’m pretty sure a lot of kids have gone through what I’ve gone through when I was young… That’s pretty much how it started.”

Payton’s uncle soon handed over the reins of the foundation to Monique and older sister Raquel, who serve as co-executive directors. Raquel, who also works in tech, recalled the early days of standing up the foundation. She said they took a year or two to learn about dyslexia and partnered with the UCSF Dyslexia Center and grassroots organization Decoding Dyslexia CA to do so. She learned how many other people, including prominent athletes like Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson, have also struggled with the condition. “There’s so many people in the world that we would consider super-intelligent and they have dyslexia… It really is a superpower. And that’s what we kind of feed off of,” Raquel said.

Outside the world of professional sports, another philanthropist who has struggled with the condition is billionaire investor Charles Schwab, who has been one of the leading funders of research into dyslexia and related conditions. The Focus Foundation and the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation have also been notable sources of dyslexia-related funding. Meanwhile, although relatively few funders focus their efforts on dyslexia specifically, the learning condition has likely played a role in nudging lots of big-time education givers toward that field over the years. The late ed philanthropy giant Eli Broad, for instance, had undiagnosed dyslexia.

Into the community

After keeping their ears to the ground for a couple of years, the Paytons felt they finally were ready to start going into communities and making an impact. The foundation organized GPII Youth Camp, an annual basketball youth camp, and ended up giving about 60 scholarships to students with dyslexia. The GPII Youth Camp also hopes to impact youth in the long term by creating a community where fellow participants can stay in touch and become their own advocates and supporters.

GPII Foundation partnered with Mobilize Love, which provides after-school programs for Bay Area youth, to create a wellness truck with a room dedicated to dyslexia screening. “We actually go out into the community with UCSF and provide those screenings right at your front door,” Raquel said. The wellness truck currently services Oakland and San Francisco.

In July, the foundation will start providing scholarships to students and their families to get dyslexia assessments. These assessments aren’t cheap and can cost thousands of dollars, Raquel said.

In addition, the foundation has partnered with Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund in Berkeley to create a workshop to help parents and teachers understand the rights of youth with learning disabilities, and with Charles Armstrong School, a specialized school in San Francisco for kids with dyslexia. At that school, GPII Foundation will run dyslexia simulation workshops, allowing people to experience the reality of those who navigate dyslexia on a daily basis. “They went through as if they were sitting in a class, from start of first period until the end of the school day,” Raquel said. Monique went to the workshop, and was so moved she felt everyone should experience it. “We plan on doing those twice a year,” Raquel added.

Raising funds, using his platform and looking ahead

It’s still very early days for the GPII Foundation. Its inaugural fundraiser took place in California’s Napa wine country this March, drawing 70 people and raising over $80,000. The elder Payton was at the event, as well Bay Area rapper legend E-40, a family friend. Their second fundraiser, in September, will be casino-themed. Raquel joked that the entire Payton family is highly competitive and obsessed with games.

Gary Payton II also received the Bob Lanier Community Assist Award, which resulted in a $75,000 gift from the NBA and Kaiser Permanente to the GPII Foundation. A wealthy family also gave a six-figure donation to the foundation.

Looking to his athlete peers, Payton sees his generation of athletes (like Stephen Curry) highly focused on causes they care about, whether that be mental health, education, career opportunities for youth, or a wide variety of other areas. “[They want to] shed light on not only life experiences, but things that are going on in the world… and try to change some of these generational things that have been a problem,” Payton said.

Looking ahead to their biggest hopes for the future of the foundation, Monique, who also runs a nonprofit called Women Standing Tall, doesn’t miss a beat. Her biggest goal is to raise $1 million for the foundation. With those funds, Raquel said, the family members want to continue doing what they’re doing, but on a bigger scale. “If we were to raise $1 million, our [mission] would be to bring the GPII Foundation to different states. We would love to start a community within all of the states Gary has played in,” Raquel said.

Payton, meanwhile, hopes to continue to use his platform to advocate for youth. There, he’ll be following in the footsteps of his dad. When he was young, Payton said, his father used to take underprivileged youth to a toy store for a shopping spree in the Seattle area. Payton recreated that himself last year around the holiday season. And similarly, the younger Payton has continued his father’s involvement with the Ronald McDonald House.

As his foundation ramps up, Payton’s also speaking out, including by urging California to establish evidence-based dyslexia screening tools and a universal screening program for all students in kindergarten through second grade. “It should just be standard, you know, at a young age. So you can catch it early and take care of it and do what you have to do for it early so it won’t be a problem later.”

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