DECATUR — Zinda James leaned on the rail just in front of the concession stands at Eisenhower High School and overlooked the gym, which was occupied by basketball players.
The stands were filled with more than 200 fans at the Back to School Bash, which was presented by Lewis Jackson, James' son.
James stood at the rail overseeing everything her son had put into the bash as children passed her clad with the backpacks and school supplies that were handed out at the door.
She looked like a proud mother.
Before she arrived, James had concerns. The bash was going toe-to-toe with the Decatur Celebration, but she was awestruck when she pulled into the parking lot and entered the doors.
“It’s a good feeling. It really is. I know he’s going to beam about it," James said.
Dara Halliburton brought her children for the backpacks and the basketball games.
The games had been the talk of her household since the event was announced, and the school supplies were an added bonus.
“The kids really look forward to the basketball game," Halliburton said. "My kids have been talking about it ever since it went up, that they want to go."
James said when Lewis was growing up, she would have sent him to the same event. Backpacks can be expensive, and two get one for $2 and to procure school supplies in the process goes a long way.
“To be able to go get school supplies? And that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about among school clothes? Yeah, it’s a blessing," James said.
Jackson had a star-studded career at Eisenhower High School before playing for four years at Purdue University, and has since played professionally, including a recent stint in the 2nd Division ProB league in Germany.
But he has also faced challenges, expressing remorse in 2009 after pleading guilty to drug and alcohol charges in Piatt County. Jackson has pleaded not guilty to a charge of possession of more than 70 grams of heroin with intent to deliver that is pending in Macon County Circuit Court in connection with an arrest last year. He said Saturday he couldn't comment on the pending case.
Jackson has been searching for the opportunity to give back to the city that he once captivated on the hardwood.
Through the efforts of friends and Eisenhower graduate Brit Miller's Leading the Way Foundation, Jackson had his answer.
“I love this community," Jackson said. "At the end of the day, I was Decatur raised and Decatur born. This is me. When I leave this city, my love is in Decatur.
“You want to be able to come back and give back to the kids. Then they believe they can achieve something, then the next kid, he’s going to want to keep it going."
Miller was a senior when he met Jackson, then a 14-year old freshman at Eisenhower, and knew Jackson had a different quality about him.
As James put it, people cling to Jackson, and Miller saw it early on.
“One of the things Lewis wanted to do, but didn’t have an avenue to do was give back to the local community," Miller said. "I know there’s a ton of backpack drives in our community — the YMCA and other places — but Lewis wanted to do it for kids who he cares about, who affects on a daily basis.
"I've known him since he was 14 years old. The real Lewis Jackson is a kid who cares about his community and loves basketball."
The vehicle to give away the school supplies was basketball, the same engine that drove Jackson from Decatur all the way to Purdue University and a professional career.
On the court, high school athletes from the Decatur and Springfield area captivated the crowd with flashy passing or thunderous dunks.
But none of them forgot why they were on the court, putting rivalries aside for a greater good.
“It’s real important," Eisenhower freshman Brylan Phillips said. "It brings us and Springfield together. We’re not really rivals for the Central State 8. It’s all of us together having fun. I’m glad Lewis did it, especially a big name like that in Decatur doing it, it brought a lot of people in."
The bash also featured a college game, with names such as St. Teresa graduates Isaiah Bond, Manny Green and Christian Williams. Eisenhower grads Yansyn Taylor and Quylan Young played on the court again.
For Taylor, it was another chance to see Jackson fill the gym, just like Taylor grew up watching with his sister.
But this time, Jackson did it in another way.
“It’s important to the younger crowd," Taylor said. "You bring the younger crowds together to keep them from negativity in the community. It’s a positive event we’ll remember always."
The night wrapped up with a pro game, that included Brennan McElroy, a St. Teresa graduate, Jarod Oldham from Eisenhower and Jackson.
Former MacArthur grad Darius Adams was back from China, where is playing professionally to see the up-and-coming talent on the court, and offer support to Jackson.
“I just wanted to see the young talent and support my brother Lewis in whatever he’s doing and see fresh faces," Adams said. "I haven’t been home in a couple months. It’s good to see everybody."
Both James and Jackson had eyes on the future. The hope is that Jackson's efforts will trickle down to younger players from the city.
It's how the wheel keeps turning.
“It means a lot, to give back to the kids and let them know this is something they can do in the near future," James said. "It just warms your heart to be able to do something like this because you see other people doing it somewhere else. It’s like, ‘Well what can we do to put the influence in our town? It’s a good experience."