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Amare is an international man of mitzvahs

NEW YORK -- Amare Stoudemire is all about getting a good night's sleep to stay sharp and recover well from a game, especially with the amount of back-to-backs ahead. But here's a question for you: When does STAT actually have time to snooze?

In between launching his fashion line with Rachel Roy, making cameo appearances in TV and film, and meeting sponsor obligations -- oh, and not to mention playing for the Knicks -- he's also running his own educational and international development foundation. Let's just say his ripe age of 29 is in his favor, and he's really putting that $18-plus million per season to use.

On Thursday, the Knicks' day off, Stoudemire visited the Brotherhood/Sister Sol in Harlem to speak to 75 students, ages eight to 22, about the importance of studying, being inquisitive and absorbing knowledge. His catchy message was: "The smarter you are, the more swag you'll have." Afterward, with the holiday spirit in mind, he gave them and their families Scholastic books, Steiner Sports gifts, Nike sneakers and some toys. And just for kicks, he had a prize giveaway featuring four tickets to the Christmas Day season opener.

In addition to the educational tie-in, Stoudemire wanted to team up with Brotherhood/Sister Sol because it complemented his foundation's global outreach. Bro/Sis provides four- to six-year rites of passage programming through after-school care, school and home counseling, summer camps, job training and employment, college preparation, community organizing training and international study programs.

"I keep hearing such great things about what they're doing," Stoudemire said. "It just fits my brand, it fits what I do, it fits my character. I like how a lot of the students travel across the country and learn different cultures. That's what I'm all about -- trying to create positive community leaders in impoverished areas. That's what this program is about, and that's what I'm about, so it's a great fit."

Fueled by his passion for history -- in fact, during the offseason he enrolled in history seminars at Florida International University -- Stoudemire has made it a priority to not only learn about different cultures, but to help those in need in those areas. In Africa, for example, Stoudemire opened an academy last year in a predominantly poor Muslim community in Mali, where kids can learn and play on a regulation-sized basketball court. It's only in Phase One of the construction right now.

"For the kids out in Mali, what I've noticed is that a lot of students want to attend school, but they have no school to go to," Stoudemire said. "So I figured why not try to create an opportunity of school where kids can be successful."

Recently, Stoudemire had a few members of his team travel to Mali to get an understanding of the students' needs. From there, he established an exchange program that gives them the chance to study in Orlando, Fla. So far, he's had three students make the trip, and they're all making good grades.

Stoudemire has also done some fascinating work in another African country, Sierra Leone, which has a large Christian population. Several years ago, he heard about a village deep in the neighboring jungle that was drinking and cleaning with waste water. After some research, Stoudemire funded plans for a groundbreaking new seesaw type of water well, which pumped clean water to its residents when kids played on it.

Everyone was saying, 'Don't go, don't go, Sierra Leone is dangerous,'" Stoudemire said. "But I was courageous and had no fear, and I went out there and built the water well for them."

Bro/Sis has a saying from legendary African-American writer James Baldwin on the back of their T-shirts that reads, "The moment we break faith from one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out." That's exactly what Stoudemire believes in too, and he's just getting started creating opportunities that have added value and a higher meaning in life. Up next: A potential Hebrew school.

"It's something that we're definitely, definitely thinking about getting started once I hear more about who's interested, and how we can make it happen and come up with a great plan," Stoudemire said. "That's something that definitely can be in the works."

At one point, more than nine years ago, Stoudemire was just like the students he was addressing on Thursday -- low on money and unsure of the future. But then NBA commissioner David Stern called his name on June 26, 2002, with the ninth pick in the draft. While Stoudemire has received the kind of cash flow that will keep him above ground for the next 100 years if he chose not to work anymore, he's still striving for greatness in his profession. That's what the students needed to hear, but in terms of education, so they can be more motivated to escape their environment. Their "last shot," as Darcy Frey once wrote.

"The only way out of poverty, out of that whole mindset of poverty, is through education," said Stoudemire, whose New Year's resolution is to develop youth into positive community leaders. "Once you reach the plateau of knowledge, once you reach the plateau of understanding, your mind will not be in the frame of poverty anymore."

Through their work together on Thursday, Stoudemire and Bro/Sis shared the same vision, stressing four main principles: positivity, knowledge, community and, most important, future.

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