Linnae Harper has accomplished a lot in the world of basketball.
The 27-year-old is known around Chicago as one of the city’s most successful local athletes in recent years, having racked up an impressive list of high school honors and championships while representing the United States internationally from 2011. Harper played Division I basketball at the college level and even made it to the WNBA, staying local and signing with the Chicago Sky in 2018.
For all his accomplishments on the court, Harper has perhaps had an even greater impact in the community. She founded her own nonprofit, kept it running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued to invent new ways to help Chicago’s youth, both through basketball and other community-led efforts. Swish call caught up with Harper to discuss those efforts and spread the word about his growing foundation.
The Rise of That Harper Kid
Harper’s story begins innocently enough. Born and raised in South Chicago, Harper attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, playing one of Illinois high school basketball’s most instantly recognizable players. Harper has earned WBCA and McDonald’s All-American honors, competed for Team USA in FIBA U16, U17, and U18 competition, and was rated by ESPN. HoopGurlz as the nation’s No. 5 rookie in 2013.
It’s a time Harper remembers fondly, though looking back, she thinks something was missing.
“When I was younger, I didn’t have many opportunities to attend camps, clinics and mentorships,” Harper recalls. “And if I did, it was with all the boys.”
As Harper’s basketball career, which included college basketball at the University of Kentucky and Ohio State University, progressed, she began to get a broader sense of what it takes to be a full-time athlete – and, in turn, what resources young, budding athletes may lack. She’s always wanted to give back to the Chicago community in some way, and in her first WNBA season, she made the big decision to start her own nonprofit foundation.
“This Harper Kid,” commonly abbreviated as THK, was named after a phrase that former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unknowingly coined during his Harper days at Whitney M. Young: “Hey, you’re that kid Harper!”. Its mission: to give back to the community in which Harper grew up in any way possible.
win the day
Every nonprofit needs a purpose, and when asked what THK aims to do, Harper responds quickly.
“Our goal is to provide resources and opportunities to underserved youth in Chicago,” says Harper. “There is a lack of recreational activities for children…Beyond that, our mission is to educate all girls and boys on how to win every day through education, sport and health.”
This multi-faceted mission has shaped THK’s calendar of events, sending Harper to more and more places in Chicago as the foundation grows. What began as an annual back-to-school event for Chicago Public Schools, in which Harper and a group of volunteers collect backpacks and other supplies for CPS students, has blossomed into an effort throughout the year involving colleges, businesses, health care providers and businesses, all with the same goal of supporting the needs of Chicago’s youth and helping them grow into healthy, fulfilled young adults .
The next step in that process is an after-school program called Hoops 4 Homework, which Harper says will begin this school year or next, depending on available funds. As part of the program, THK will provide tutoring services to CPS students, as well as mentorship to help them develop life skills and mental well-being. If all goes according to plan, Harper and his volunteers will raise enough funds to open 529 student plans, with the ultimate goal of sending students to college.
It’s quite an ambitious project — one that never really ends — and Harper readily acknowledges the challenges of running a nonprofit. She points to the difficulties raising funds and recruiting volunteers, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and admits running THK has been more difficult than she initially anticipated. The foundation itself has no more than five board members, and they spend the majority of their time trying to secure the resources necessary to execute their vision.
Harper has however found support in the community and points out that for every challenge faced by THK, there has been an unexpected and pleasant surprise, especially via social media platforms. It’s common to see Harper reaching out to large groups of CPS students and hosting local basketball camps, and it’s starting to pay off. companies start reaching out to her, asking how they can help her, which she attributes to social media, saying “people end up following.”
Harper’s Haven: a sports consulting firm
The gradual increase in support for THK has encouraged Harper to think bigger and bigger when considering ways to give back. His most recent project is a sports consulting firm called “Harper’s Haven,” which will take Harper’s own experiences as a professional athlete and condense them into an accessible resource for young basketball players.
“I’ve been through everything an athlete can possibly go through when it comes to being a professional,” Harper says. “I played in high school, I went to college, I changed colleges…but a lot of people don’t know that I walked. I really wanted to go to the state of Ohio, but they didn’t have a scholarship until the spring semester, so for the fall I signed up as an extra, so I know what it’s like to have to apply for financial aid.
“After I turned pro, I wasn’t drafted. I went through the undrafted stage, went overseas, got cut and all that. So I think my knowledge can really help athletes, because I’ve really been there.
To test the waters of athletic counseling, Harper will release a 36-page manual that covers essential information for young athletes, including the college recruiting process and tips for financial literacy. While Harper calls the book a “guinea pig,” she wrote it for as wide a range of readers as possible, and she hopes its accessibility will eventually lead to more opportunities for her own foundation.
“We are pretty much a third party. Whether [players] come up to us and say, hey, can you help us with marketing or branding, we’ll educate them, but also connect them with marketing and branding agencies,” Harper says. “If young kids are looking for agents or coaches, that’s what we can do. We will also have workshops where I will go out and work with high school teams or college teams, and we will have seminars for parents and athletes. This is where we start.
The Harper Handbook is currently in print and will be available for purchase online within the next two weeks, as well as at all in-person events THK and Harper’s Haven are hosting.
A well-established approach
Growing THK aligns with Harper’s own advice when addressing young basketball players, a holistic approach that branches out in many directions and emphasizes personal growth as much as on-court coaching.
“The biggest piece of advice I would give to [students] is to be well balanced,” says Harper. “I think it will take you as far as you want. Use basketball as leverage to go to school for free and get your education; if you do that, everything else will fall in line.
“I tell the children that it is extremely difficult to play. It is extremely difficult to find a job [in basketball]. There are no guarantees in the WNBA and there are no guarantees abroad. Yeah, anyone can go out and score 20 points, but when you get to college, the rest of your teammates can too. What will set you apart from others? That’s how I got as far as I did because I wasn’t always the best player on my team, but I was able to do little things like defend, rebound or be a good teammate. And I think that’s more important than anything.
As for Harper herself, she currently competes in 3×3 basketball tours with Team USA and the Force 10 3×3 independent division, and she’s signed to play international ball in Puerto Rico this winter. She is also continuing her studies at Ohio State, preparing for a master’s degree in sports coaching, which she hopes to obtain by next spring.
None of this will impact his off-court contributions, however — if anything, it inspires Harper to dedicate even more time to his community.
“I feel like when you get to the pro level, then it’s about giving back. You’re not playing for the next level, you’re playing for your career,” Harper says. “So now , how can we provide for the needs of the younger generations, who will come after us?
Both are fair questions — questions Harper answers daily through her philanthropy.
Anyone interested in donating to THK or volunteering for future THK events is encouraged to follow the foundation on instagram and visit his website at https://www.thatharperkid.org/.