NBA star Chris Paul (left) led a voting drive last October with Je'Den Clark, a WSSU graduate and Student Government Association president.  (Image via Je'Den Clark) Chris Paul at Winston-Salem State University
NBA star Chris Paul (left) led a voting drive last October with Je'Den Clark, a WSSU graduate and Student Government Association president. (Image via Je'Den Clark)

The Wake Forest University basketball star has emerged as a leader for social justice in his native Winston-Salem. 

When Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul steps on the court for the first NBA Finals appearance of his 16-year career, he won’t be alone. 

“I’ve had my hometown and my family with me,” said Paul right after the Suns punched their ticket to the Finals by beating the Los Angeles Clippers last week. 

His hometown is Winston-Salem. Even in the midst of a Hall of Fame career and appearances in State Farm commercials, Paul (who wore a Winston-Salem hat while speaking to the media) hasn’t forgotten his roots. 

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In 2018, the 11x NBA All-Star described what it was like to grow up in Winston-Salem in an article for the Players’ Tribune. His late-grandfather and hero, Nathaniel Jones, established the first Black-owned service station in North Carolina and was well-known in the community. 

Last October, the NBA star also led an early voting drive at Winston-Salem State University. Paul attended Wake Forest for two years before going to the pros, but has lately shown more support for historically Black colleges like WSSU and North Carolina Central University in Durham. 

Chris Paul at Winston-Salem State
NBA star Chris Paul (left) pictured here with Winston-Salem State Student Government Association President Je’Den Clark during a voting drive last fall. (Image via Je’Den Clark)

Paul, who left Wake Forest early for the NBA, is currently enrolled at WSSU and says he plans on completing his degree and participating in commencement. 

“I’m not where I am today without my experience at Wake Forest,” Paul told GQ last summer. “But I was also lucky to be right down the street from Winston-Salem State University…Honestly, deep down inside, I wish I’d had an opportunity (to attend an HBCU). They mean everything to me.” 

At the early voting drive, Paul, along with members of the student government association, stopped by residence halls to gather students before proceeding to the polling site with 2,500 other people, including the school’s marching band and cheerleaders. 

“When we walked around campus and encountered different groups of students, Chris just explained to students how they have a lot more power than they realize,” said Je’Den Clark, a recent WSSU graduate and former SGA president. “Not only to use their voice for voting, but just using their voice in general. He really stressed the idea of not taking your voice for granted.” 

The 2016 record for number of votes cast through early and absentee ballots had already been broken in North Carolina by late-October, but Paul and others continued to spread the word about getting to the polls early. In addition to WSSU, Paul would also visit Fayetteville State University (another HBCU) with Detroit Pistons guard and Fayetteville native Dennis Smith Jr. to lead another march to the polls a couple days later. 

“His involvement in the entire project was very selfless and generous,” Clark told C&P. “Chris fully funded every attraction that we had out there… food trucks, DJ, anything we needed, he was willing to provide for us. And it was a really, really amazing experience,” said Clark. 

Paul’s family foundation also offers leadership programs for marginalized students, provides HBCU students with access to learn the business of sports and entertainment, and annually awards two scholarships to Forsyth County students to attend Wake Forest University. 

His Winston-Salem basketball academy offers free 1-hour training sessions for kids and has been frequented by the next generation of basketball stars in North Carolina, including 2021 NBA Rookie Of The Year LaMelo Ball of the Charlotte Hornets and top national high school prospect Mikey Williams.