The Perfect Assist

Pee Wee Harrison in a suit spinning a colorful basketball on his finger

Regardless of where he travels – whether it be to the Midwestern plains of his youth or the run-down, broken-glass-covered streets of America’s inner cities – Les “Pee Wee” Harrison’s message is the same: “Choose love.”

It’s a simple but profound mantra, first instilled in him by his parents during the height of the civil rights movement and one that continues to drive him with each bus ride or flight to cities across the nation. As the leader of “I Choose Love USA” – a grassroots initiative that promotes reconciliation, transformational healing and social equality – Harrison (G86, MBA03) is on the road the majority of the calendar year.

In fact, he plans to travel to all 50 state capitals by the end of 2021. With each stop, he’s meeting with governors, mayors, police and fire chiefs, and educators in an effort to build relationships between community leaders and their constituents.

“We don’t have the luxury to hate,” he says matter-of-factly. “Too many of the recent movements out to seek justice are divisive. They are separatist in nature. I wanted to create something that was inclusive of everybody.”

Inspired by the gospel song I Choose Love, sung by the group The Brown Sisters – of which his wife, Leah, is a member – Harrison launched “I Choose Love USA” in 2020 in response to the civil unrest and divisiveness taking hold in Portland and around the country. It kicked off in his childhood hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where he initiated a “Governor’s Challenge” that resulted in the state’s leaders – among them Governor Pete Ricketts – signing an “I Choose Love” creed.

The tour also includes a transformational workshop that aims to educate participants on how others live in hopes of bringing about understanding, and week-long basketball camps that call for police officers to serve as coaches to youth in the community. “How do you build community? Through relationships,” Harrison says. “By doing this, we help kids see officers as advocates and the officers see the kids as coachable.”

Black and white photo of Harrison playing for the Bruins in the 1980s

Harrison played for the Bruins from 1984-86, finishing fifth in career steals.

The movement also incorporates neighborhood beautification projects that clean, one block at a time, the streets that lead to local schools. The practice serves as a metaphor: Pave the way for children to safely walk to school, and it sends a message that they can get an education and pursue their dreams.

A final element of “I Choose Love USA” is perhaps its most profound: the presentation to civic leaders miniature replicas of the Statue of Responsibility, a sculpture inspired by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl and commissioned by famed author (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) Stephen Covey. The 305-foot statue, featuring two hands joined together, will be erected by 2023 in a to-be-announced West Coast city to promote social, civil and vocational responsibility. The monument will serve as a West Coast counterpart to the Statue of Liberty in New York.

The underlying themes of it all: Choose to love. Take responsibility for your city. Build relationships with others to dismantle the walls that separate us.

“With all these stops, we’re not just about external beautification. This isn’t a ‘community fix-up project,’” Harrison says. “It’s all about internal beautification. It’s about building relationships. It’s about giving kids the ability to dream.

“We’re going to these civic leaders because the streets are not going to change first. Congress needs to change first, and then the streets will change.”

Promoting unity and personal responsibility is nothing new to Harrison. For more than three decades he’s traveled the globe as a motivational speaker and entertainer as a member of the Harlem All-Stars, an outgrowth of the Harlem Globetrotters. Playing alongside basketball legends Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal has given Harrison a platform to spread a message of hope to the masses.

The conviction that drives him? Be willing to set others up for success, putting their interests ahead of your own.

“That’s what I’m all about,” says Harrison, a point guard for the Bruins (1984-86) who led the squad in assists his first season and who stands at No. 5 on the university’s all-time steals list. “That’s why I call my book and my company by the same name – The Perfect Assist. I realized as a player that, in order for me to be the most successful point guard I could be, somebody’s success had to come before mine. Because if I pass you the ball and you miss the shot, I don’t get an assist.

“So, my whole focus is this: How can I put people in places so they can have success?”

Learn more about I Choose Love USA at ichooseloveusa.com