DEARBORN, Mich. – It started with a group of high school students wanting to make a difference and learning the value of taking a chance. Ali Hamade didn’t expect any of the Detroit-based athletes he messaged on Instagram a month ago to respond to his request, but the 15-year-old figured why not. He was going to take a shot.
Detroit Lions running back Ameer Abdullah read the message. He did his research on the not-for-profit Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities organization. He researched Hamade’s pitch. Then he messaged him back. He was in. He would help Hamade and the students he worked with from Fordson and Divine Child high schools in Dearborn, Michigan, with their water drive and fundraiser to provide relief for the ongoing Flint Water Crisis.
That included Sunday, with Abdullah sitting at a table outside the N.Y. Deli on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn signing autographs, taking pictures with Lions fans offering to donate money and water while meeting the running back.
It was his part to help their mutual cause.
“It’s amazing to see the kind of part they have, the kind of resolve they have to be innovators in their communities and to be potential future leaders,” Abdullah told ESPN outside the event. “To my understanding, that is what the program they are associated with is all about. Coming together, bringing a community together for a greater cause and what individual cause you stand for. For me, I was sold on that.
“I was sold on that and I’m happy to partner with them in any way I can. We understand we’re just one small facet in this problem, but you have to start somewhere.”
It started with Hamade doing something most teenagers wouldn’t – taking a risk to reach out to a local celebrity for help. He hit on an important issue to Abdullah. Last year, the he went up to Flint a couple of times with the Lions for various events. So he understood the problem.
Sunday had no affiliation with the Lions. This was all Abdullah.
“It was just that we want to help out and it’s still an issue,” Hamade said. “People are forgetting that there’s people in Flint that need help. That’s how I sold it, that there are people who are forgetting and we’re holding a water drive and we’re trying to get people to remember and to come and help out.”
Abdullah arrived in his Mustang with a trunk full of cases of bottled water. One of his teammates, linebacker Antwione Williams, and Lions director of security Elton Moore brought cases of water, too.
Abdullah also assisted with the group’s GoFundMe page, which had raised $2,560 as of 10 p.m. Sunday night. At the three-hour fundraiser Sunday, an extra $340 and 53 cases of bottled water were donated -- ahead of the organization's goal of 50 cases.
“I kind of understood what was going on and obviously the government has granted several million dollars to repair the pipes, the lead pipes in Flint,” Abdullah said. “Obviously those won’t really be in effect until 2020. It’s 2017 now, three years is far too long just to let people continue to suffer. Just to see how these kids are taking initiative to reach out to show some people who are very deserving that they care that they understand the sentiment. That they understand that there’s a need in that area.
“It’s something that I’ve always been infatuated with, seeing young people taking a step. To see the young people taking a step and to stand together in solidarity and come out and do something not for yourself it was really a blessing.”
Abdullah is not the first Lions player to help with the ongoing water crisis. Last year, Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah donated 94,000 bottles of water to help the crisis and went to Flint with some Lions defensive linemen to help make the donation in person.
The Lions’ charity arm also donated an undisclosed amount of money to help with the crisis last year. In December of 2016, former Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy wrote about the crisis in his weekly Detroit Free Press column, asking people not to forget about the issue, which has been going on for over a year.
Last month, according to CNN, the state of Michigan committed $97 million to replace “lead or galvanized steel water lines” in Flint. The project, though, is not expected to be completed until 2020. Flint declared a state of emergency on its water supply in December 2015, and the crisis had led to criminal charges, a federal investigation and class action lawsuits according to a CNN timeline.