It can be difficult sometimes to pinpoint where your life—or even your career—journey began. For Bo Porter, it started with the smash of broken glass in a window. Then another smash. And another.
At age nine, Porter played baseball in a church parking lot in Newark, New Jersey. Gifted with power at a young age, Porter found himself consistently driving the ball over the parking lot fence and through the window of an adjacent house.
“The man who owned the house was named Mr. Taylor,” Porter recalls. “He would come over to my house and say to my mom, ‘Ms. Porter, Bo broke my window again.’ My mom would explain that there was no park where the kids could play nor a league for me to play in.”
Taylor, who worked as a security officer in a bank on the other side of town, knew of a Little League close to his job and returned to the Porter home with a sign-up sheet. Porter’s mother explained to him that she didn’t have money for Little League, nor a car to get her son across town to participate.
“He said, ‘Little League might cost a little less if Bo doesn’t keep breaking my window,’” Porter recalls with a laugh. “Out of the kindness of his heart, Mr. Taylor offered to pay the fee and take me twice a week to Little League. I tried out and got selected right away.”
Porter’s first Little League coach was an avid New York Yankees fan who took his team of twelve kids to Yankee Stadium one summer afternoon. Arriving early, Porter and his teammates went down to field-side seats and got autographs from Dave Winfield, Willie Randolph, and Don Mattingly. “I knew that day that I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player,” Porter says.
A few years later, Porter found that he had gone from hitting long balls out of church parking lots to being selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 1993 MLB draft. He also spent time with the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, and Colorado Rockies.
With his playing days behind him, he’s gone on to work on the coaching staffs for the Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves.
In addition to his work with Major League Baseball, Porter spends his time off the field as the chairman of The Stacey and Bo Porter SELF Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 2012 with his wife to provide and support programs dedicated to improving and impacting the lives of others. SELF is an acronym for sports, education, life skills, and faith.
“It’s really Stacey who did an outstanding job building the day-to-day infrastructure of the foundation,” Porter says. “She’s a product of the Houston Independent School District and shares my passion to provide a brighter future for our children.”
Through an array of programs, including a initiative that focuses on academic achievement and enhanced potential, after school tutorial assistance and academic enrichment, flag football, club baseball, a day at the ballpark, and financial literacy, the SELF Foundation works in various schools and communities across the country to provide the assistance and opportunities that Porter experienced when he was younger. “A lot of kids are coming from troubled homes and backgrounds,” Porter explains. “It’s a joy when you hear a child come up and say, ‘Mr. Porter, I want to thank you for caring.’ It sends chills down your spine.”
In addition to the programs, there are also events where kids who have taken part in these programs are recognized for their growth and achievement, such as at the foundation’s annual gala. The annual gala also recognizes some of Porter’s professional colleagues for the work they’ve done. For example, the Torch Award was bestowed to the likes of Frank Robinson, Chipper Jones, Hayden Fry, and Dave Winfield.
Porter also hosts the EMPOWERED Summit, which is based on his first book, REal Life EMPOWERED. The title, similar to SELF, is an acronym that provides the guidance to a well-rounded life: education, manners, physical activity, open-mindedness, well-balanced nutrition, expression of positive attitude, relationships, enrichment of spirit, and dedication.
Each year at the summit, the foundation invites nine different speakers to share about one of the EMPOWERED values at the meeting. The theme of the summit had its genesis in motivational texts and messages that Porter would give to his players during his time as a coach, which quickly evolved into a book and then a summit.
The ideas don’t stop, either. In late 2017, Porter launched the Championship Dad’s Club, another group that is focused on helping people and providing fathers with the tools they need to be the best they can be to their children. Porter says he was inspired by his son’s homework, which asked him about his father.
“My son said, ‘I love my dad because he takes great care of me and my family, but I respect my dad because he’s teaching me to be a man.’ Talk about bringing you to your knees,” Porter says. “We all set out to do a great job with our kids, but to hear my son say that was amazing. I literally grabbed my pen and pad and said, ‘I want to do something with this feeling.’”
The ability to capitalize on those feelings and reinsert positivity and goodwill into the community isn’t simply done by Porter and Stacey. He notes that the foundation’s staff, its board of directors, advisory council, sponsors, donors, and volunteers all play a vital role in helping bring SELF’s mission and vision to light.
He also says the Houston Independent School District’s principals, teachers, and coaches who run the foundation’s program have taken the mission on as their own.
Beyond providing opportunities, Porter notes that the value of the SELF Foundation is not only about fun programs and community improvements, but it’s also about providing faith and becoming “champions of Christ.” The rewards he finds in that faith are found every day, and he says that sometimes the reminder of how much gratitude you owe can be found with a simple reflection about considering all those who’ve helped you on your journey.
“Where would I be if Mr. Taylor had not paid the $25 and drove me across town twice a week? We all can do something. It doesn’t matter how big or small your platform is,” Porter says. “We should all look for opportunities to do something for someone else.”
Photos: Gillian Fry
The Importance of Connection
Although Bo Porter was always motivated to improve the lives of those who had little to start with, he found himself stuck when trying to launch the SELF Foundation.
That’s when a player that Porter coached was preparing to play college baseball, and professional scouts had been showing up to his games and asking questions that he and his family weren’t prepared to answer. As a former Major League Baseball player, Porter made himself available for guidance.
“I was getting ready to go to spring training, and this player’s mother asked me to stop by the house so I might be able to give them some insight,” Porter recalls. “We spoke, and at one point, she says, ‘Tell me what’s going on with you guys?’ We were in the process of getting our articles done to launch the foundation. We’d come up with the name, we knew the sector of kids we wanted to help, but we didn’t know how to get the articles done or the 501(c)(3) paperwork done. So, I tell this woman and she goes, ‘You know, that’s what I do for a living.’ I had the paperwork in my car, and she asked for the whole folder. Two or three months later, the paperwork was done and the foundation was up and running.”